I love introducing new guests to All Things Georgian and I’m excited to welcome Lynda O’Keeffe, researcher, writer and storyteller, today to tell us about John O’Keeffe (1747-1833), the blind playwright.
As her name denotes, she is a descendant of John O’Keeffe. Lynda has spent over eight years researching the life and works of this extraordinary man and with that she can safely say that she knows this man, everything from his favourite meal to the ribbons in his hair. The object of her research is that his story must be told, his life and experiences are as relevant today as in the 18th century.
Lynda has worked as a literary and creative arts agent – representing actors, musicians and writers. With a passion for theatre, obviously in the blood, the writing of The Blind Playwright is her first major foray into writing – an experience she says could be likened to an assault course! Finding herself on the other side of the fence, she sought out a writer that she both respects and admires, attended his workshops and now states firmly and unabashedly that without the encouragement and expertise of Niall Williams (author of This is Happiness, Four Letters of Love, etc.), she would not have had the confidence to embark on The Blind Playwright. Her writing has enabled her to escape the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic to dash through the streets of 18th-century London, privy to O’Keeffe’s many amusing anecdotes and cavorting with some of his famous friends including R.B. Sheridan, Charles Macklin, Elizabeth Inchbald and Dorothea Jordan.
With her confidence bolstered, Lynda’s labours have now come to fruition with the completion of a historical novel based on his life, a play script of O’Keeffe’s life, the reworking of one of his previously unperformed plays and the transformation of several of his comedic poems into a story and play script. Her research has also earned her the support of academic institutions around the world including Trinity College Dublin and London Metropolitan University and national institutions include National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery Dublin and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
You can join Lynda on her Instagram page and find out more about her ancestor there: the_blind_playwright
18th century London was never going to be an easy place for a blind Irish playwright to prosper and thrive …
Introducing John O’Keeffe, a man who in his own time needed no introduction at all – the most prolific and significant playwright of the 18th century. With works including operas, comedic farces and poetry, he could be called the Andrew Lloyd Webber of Georgian theatre. John O’Keeffe’s story is one of survival and success in the face of adversity. He was born in Abbey Street, Dublin on 24th June 1747 into an affluent Catholic family; his father held an office of Prerogative and was a descendant of the Kings of Ireland. Being born into a life of privilege ensured a fine education, so John attended school in Dublin and soon became a Classics scholar proficient in four languages. Upon his parents’ own desire for their sons to become artists, John and his brother Daniel were sent to the Royal Academy of Art in the city. John’s skill with a paintbrush led to numerous commissions in both portraiture and landscape, but little did he foresee that the observational skills he learnt at the RAA would in the future be his treasured and most invaluable tools.
In 1761, John visited London and upon seeing David Garrick perform was mightily impressed. Unbeknown to the fourteen-year-old John, this was to be the catalyst behind his life choices. He went on to study at Trinity College Dublin, a bright young man with a character described as forever merry and good hearted. He was the life and soul of the party with a fine singing voice, a quick humour and a kindly disposition, and he was considered a man of principles. By this time he was already a published writer, flooding the newspaper editors’ desks with his poetry and amusing stories, forever using the pseudonyms of his classical heroes – Democritus was a favourite.
After completing his education, John decided upon a career change and became an actor, a strolling player travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. However, after a raucous night out with friends in Dublin, the twenty-two-year old thespian fell into the River Liffey, a watery accident that resulted in a rapid deterioration of his sight, with complete blindness setting in some eight years later.
With his acting career now thwarted, the indefatigable John turned his skills to playwrighting. His first play, The She Gallant, became a roaring success in Dublin, and he and his young family decamped to London to find fame and fortune.
London soon recognised John’s brilliance and he became one of the most prolific and significant playwrights of the 18th century, writing for the Theatre Royals of Covent Garden and the Haymarket. His portfolio totalled above seventy-nine pieces, and between 1778 and 1798 fifty-seven of his plays, amounting to over two thousand performances, were performed on the London stages.
He was the epitome of celebrity, enjoying royal patronage from King George III and the royal family, and lauded and praised by his illustrious friends and peers, including Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Sarah Siddons, Charles Macklin, Elizabeth Inchbald, Kane O’Hara, William Shield and Oliver Goldsmith. The finest actors, actresses and musicians of the 18th century performed in his works, with Dorothea Jordan, William Lewis, Ann Catley, Michael Leoni and Mrs Powell to be found on the cast lists. He was adored and courted by both society and the public.
But while John’s career was rising to exalted heights, his personal life was crashing down around him. His professional and private lives were on a collision course, and despite reaching the pinnacle of success as a writer, he was ravaged by tragedy and loss. If losing his sight at age thirty was not enough, his first child Gerald died in infancy, his marriage to Mary (née Heaphy) failed, he lost another son Henry at age ten years, and his brother Daniel died in 1787. The final nail in this ‘mental crucifixion’ was the death of his eldest son, the Reverend John Tottenham, at the age of 28 years.
Throughout all these tragedies, with his daughter Adelaide as scribe, John continued in his work, turning out operas, farces and poetry to enchant and amuse his audiences – even whilst his own heart had been blown wide open. A quote from his memoirs, Recollections of the Life of John O’Keeffe, displays his actions behind his broken human heart:
‘The effort to be envied, rather than pitied, often proves a successful stimulus to the greatest actions of human life.’
John’s blindness was a major contributing factor to many of his personality traits, influencing how he reacted to the events that befell him. His character could change in the blink of an eye; from being introverted and often reclusive, he would almost instantly become exuberant and flamboyant. He suffered with bouts of depression, anxiety and vulnerability, yet demonstrated confidence and enthusiasm when putting pen to paper and creating his theatrical masterpieces. The theatre was his Utopia. And even while beset with his own tragedies, this man of principles maintained a strong social conscience. He was a champion and advocate for gender equality, female authorship and the abolition of slavery – and he never missed an opportunity to express his own thoughts through his work. His example in and commitment to socio-political issues remain as relevant to modern times and resonate loudly with current equality movements and issues of modern slavery and human trafficking, immigration and world poverty. From the many pieces John wrote, the most famous over time has been Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. In 1788 (pre-dating Disney by over 230 years) John dramatised the story of Aladdin as a harlequinade, with its first performance on the stage of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden – it having had resounding worldwide success since.
John’s play Wild Oats, first performed in 1791, remains a popular choice with modern theatre companies: hugely successful productions were staged in 1976 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a cast including Zoë Wanamaker, in 1997 by the National Theatre, and in 2012 by the Bristol Old Vic.
On this note, I will end John’s story with a review of the RSC production by Bernard Levin:
‘With ”Wild Oats” the RSC have struck gold and oil at once, and rubies and diamonds to the utmost profusion, mingled with vintage champagne, lightly chilled, caviar is there…A farce by an altogether forgotten Irish born man of the theatre.’
John O’Keeffe died in Southampton on 4th February 1833 in poverty, with only four people attending his funeral, somewhat forgotten too at the end of his own life after so many years feted in the spotlight. Remember him next time you see the posters going up for a Christmas production of Aladdin.
I came across a story to share with you from the Star, 29 June 1802 which described Monsieur Garnerin’s first flight in England ,although I had read that his first flight didn’t take place until 21 September 1802, but perhaps it was, that on that occasion he made the first parachute jump.
A group of people/party-goers known as the Pic Nics made the news on a regular basis around this time. The group included the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Duchesses of Manchester and Gordon, Leeds amongst many others, all carefully named by the newspaper, in order of their social status.
Weather-wise, June would usually be regarded as an ideal time to meet up and enjoy an outdoor party and so at about two o’clock in the afternoon, the Regatta began with about forty of them began their party along the Thames from Whitehall stairs in large pleasure barges sailing to Ranelagh pleasure gardens. Accompanying the party goers was another boat with a very large band of wind instruments and other pleasure barges filled with ‘people of distinction’.
The Pic-Nic Orchestra Gillray. MetMuseum
Sadly, the weather was not quite as good as it could have been, but poor weather wasn’t going to spoil their fun. They reached Ranelagh stairs about an hour later, after encountering a very strong ebb tide and a very strong breeze from the South West and were saluted on landing, with a volley from the soldiers on duty in the gardens.
The breakfast, as it was described, consisted of all the delicacies of the season. The wines were not only abundant but of the best quality. Those who came with guinea tickets were admitted to the gallery of the rotunda below, at tables equally well supplied. But the principal attraction was the ascension of Monsieur Jacques Garnerin in his small balloon. This was to be his first flight in this country, and he later went on to make several more during his visit.
About four o’clock the company left the breakfast tables and retired to the garden to watch the event. The Pic Nics contracted Garnerin to take to the air by paying him 500 guineas. Captain Snowden, a member of the group, agreed to accompany him and it was said that he had a wager with someone of 200 guineas to take part in this. Sadly, the article omits to tell us who the other party was.
A later image of André Jacques Garnerin descending from a balloon by parachute in a field near St Pancras Church British Museum
This proved to be quite a spectacle. The figure and proportions of the balloon was described as:
grand and beautiful, it’s colours were alternate sections of dark green and yellow, The vessel that contained the materials from which the gas was generated the tubes by which it was conveyed to the balloon, the most minute part of the instruments, and the process were examined with the most particular attention that wonder and curiosity could excite.
Whilst the audience were waiting in the garden for the ascent, they were entertained with several excellent pieces of music by the band who had attended on the river. The balloon had been filling since about nine in the morning, and a few minutes before five it was deemed sufficiently filled and ready to ascend. Monsieur Garnerin stepped into the car under the balloon. A lady of the party tried to persuade Captain Snowden not to go, but her please fell on deaf ears. After a brief period making final adjustments, the balloon was ready. Initially, it wouldn’t lift as Garnerin had hope, so he threw out some of the extra ballast, which immediately solved the problem.
Three signal guns were fired for his ascent and just as the balloon was rising Captain Snowden sat down, but Garnerin insisted he stood otherwise it could prove fatal. The balloon ascended in the most majestic manner, amidst the onlookers numbering by now about a thousand who were assembled in the garden. The car was richly decorated with flags of different nations in honour of the Peace of Amiens.
Immense crowds were assembled in Battersea fields, the upper part of Millbank, Tothill Fields, Chelsea and Pimlico; every window, every house top, every tree was filled. Chelsea gardens were crowded, the river was covered with boats, while on the banks on both side, an every avenue from town towards Ranelagh were thronged. The great road from Buckingham gate was absolutely impassable, or at least the carriages which formed an unbroken chain from the Turnpike to Ranelagh door, could only advance so slowly that many preferred to get out and struggle through the amassed crowd.
The newspaper assured its readers that:
No balloon that ever before went up, took a course so directly over London from West to East. It passed over the Five Fields, part of the Park, Pall-Mall, Charing Cross, the Strand, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s churchyard and could be distinctly seen above every street.
Every shop was totally deserted as everyone had taken to the streets to watch. Monsieur Garnerin could be distinctly seen waving the flags, and at one time he came down very low and threw out yet more ballast, rapidly ascended and disappeared behind a cloud. Soon after this it began to rain, but this did not deter Garnerin and his fellow passenger and thy travelled on to Colchester, Essex, 51 miles from London, in just a few hours, where they landed without any accident.
Those left at Ranelagh were refreshed with tea, coffee and an excellent cold meal, most leaving Ranelagh sometime around seven in the evening. A large party of the light horse and foot guards were stationed in all directions leading to Ranelagh to keep the peace and watch out for pickpockets.
Joanna was born in 1750 and presented for baptism at the local parish church, Ottery St Mary, Devon, by parents William and Hannah on 6th June 1750. If you look to the left of the entry in the baptismal register, you’ll see a faint, handwritten notation which was added at some time. Someone has written the words ‘The Fanatic’.
If you’ve never come across Joanna before, she held very strong religious convictions and in her early 40’s began to experience apocalyptic dreams and visitations. She believed that she possessed supernatural gifts and wrote prophecies in rhyme. She claimed to be the Woman of the Apocalypse referenced in a prophetic passage of the book of Revelations, Chapter 12, verses 1-6 and that she was destined to have a son who would be the new Messiah or Shiloh (Genesis, Chapter 49, verse 10).
Over time, Joanna acquired a large following who believed in her prophecies, so much so that she began selling paper ‘seals of the Lord’ at prices varying from twelve shillings to a guinea. The seals were supposed to ensure the owners of such would receive eternal life. Joanna became so popular that she was persuaded to leave her home in Devon and move to London.
At the age of 64, Joanna announced that she was pregnant, and it was an immaculate conception. The child was to be born on 19 October 1814 and needless to sy there was a media frenzy awaiting the birth of this child, but of course much of her prophecies were viewed with a degree of scepticism.
19 October 1814 came and went, but Joanna was growing ever larger, so people believed that the birth of the child was imminent.
The Statesman of 28 November 1814 reported that her state of health had changed:
On Thursday night, she complained of great oppression insomuch, that she could not lay down on her bed, nor be in one posture, but a very short time together during the night. On Friday morning, she got some sleep, but wakened frequently, with the oppression and pain. Towards the evening she became restless again, had a very bad night and this day (Saturday is so much exhausted, that she cannot keep her head off the pillow. She complains of a giddiness in her head, and extreme faintness all over her and general pains all over. This is the state she is in at present, some change must soon take place, according to all human understanding, as she continues without taking nourishment, except the wine, which does not remain long on her stomach.
Her condition deteriorated and still no sign of the child until about 27 December 1814, when she died, with her Chief Priest Tozer and her close friend, Ann Underwood along with two or three unnamed people at her bedside.
The Examiner 8 January 1815 carried a detailed report titled Death and Dissection of the Prophetess. Just prior to her death it was said that she became insensible, but her supporters continued to believe that he wasn’t dying, but that it was merely a precursor to giving birth. A surgeon, Mr Want, of Tottenham Court Road was made aware of Joanna’s condition some seven weeks prior to her demise. He stated that the symptoms she displayed should be examined independent of the question of reputed pregnancy. He concluded from his examination that there was no pregnancy, but that she would die from her illness, but that he could give her medication to help ease her suffering and to ‘relieve the flatulency of which she was oppressed’. In order to ensure that Joanna’s carer, Ann Underwood was under no illusion that her friend would recover or that she was pregnant, the doctor wisely put his view to Ann in writing, urging her to ensure that Joanna took the medicine he had prescribed. He also noted that Joanna declined any medicine unless The Lord told her she should take it.
Joanna’s supporters believed that Joanna would appear as dead for a period of four days, she would then be revived, and the boy would be born, so her body was not allowed to be moved for burial during this period. They simply believed that she was ‘gone for a while’ and wrapped her body in blankets, put bottles of hot water around her feet and kept the room warm.
Crowds of her supporters gathered in Manchester Street to await her resurrection, all constantly asking for news. Far from waking up after the four-day period, decomposition rapidly began, aided by the heat.
Two surgeons carried out the dissection and as they anticipated, no unborn child was found, her uterine organs were healthy, however, her intestines were distended and flatulent which they believed to be the cause of her appearing pregnant. The cause of death was recorded as ‘natural’.
Before Joanna died, she advised Ann Underwood that if the child wasn’t born, that all the gifts given by her followers, for the use of the Shiloh, including a crib were to be returned to them. Joanna left a will, in which she left small financial gifts along with her wearing apparel to named followers, her will contains over two full pages of names in a list along with the item to be given to them.
Following her death there was a media frenzy, describing her as a ‘wicked woman’ taking money from people under false pretences. She was also described as a scandalous and deluded.
The Caledonian Mercury, 31 December 1814, contained a letter which confirmed that Joanna had died at four o’clock in the morning, 27 December 1814 and was buried on 2nd January 1815 at St Marylebone.
Joanna was also said to have a left a chest containing prophecies which was only to be opened at a time of national crisis or danger and in the presence of all the Bishops of the Church of England.
Quite where this box is now I’m not quite sure, and there appears to be no mention of such an item in her will. I have read that it was at some time been deposited at the British Museum, but that it has now been lost. It’s also said to be with a member of the family and but perhaps the most likely place being that in 1957 it was presented to the Panacea Society that it remains with them, in a house which is now a museum in Bedford.
The Imposter, or Obstetric Dispute. British Museum
Mary Anne Deane was born about 1718 and was believed to be the daughter of John Deane, Governor of India, who died about 1752. Sadly, it’s proving difficult to find anything about this lady’s early life.
She came to my attention when I was asked for help in finding out more about her for the television programme, A House Through Time, but, as their plans changed I decided that for now it was worth including the little we do know about her, here on All Things Georgian.
Mary Anne was a deeply religious woman and friend of John Wesley, the evangelist and lived at The Manor House, Whitkirk, near Leeds, until her death on 4 February 1807, when she was buried at the parish church, aged 88 years, according to the parish register. The burial register entry also stated:
Her life was pious, her death triumphant
William Dawson described as ‘an eloquent preacher’ gave the sermon at Mary Anne’s funeral which took place the week following her demise. The York Herald 14 February 1807 also paid tribute to her, describing her as, ‘a lady universally respected’.
Mary Anne had moved to Whitkirk about 1768, but it’s not clear whether that it was then that she moved into The Manor House.
Apart from being well known to the Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington, the religious leader who played a prominent part in the religious revival of the 18th century and the Methodist movement in England and Wales, Mary Anne was also reputed to be related to the Frances, Viscountess Irwin, but so far it hasn’t been possible to establish whether the connection was to the Countess or her husband.
Viscountess Frances Irwin (Irving) was the illegitimate daughter of Shepheard, but was also known as Gibson, her mother’s name. Her father Samuel Shepheard’s will of 1748, made that clear ‘my daughter Frances Gibson, commonly called Frances Shepheard’.
In her will, May Anne stipulated that she should be buried at Whitkirk parish church, with a gravestone just showing her name and age. She made provision for a Louisa Deane, daughter of her late uncle Lewis Deane, the interest on £1,000 stock, so long as Louisa paid £10 per annum to her brother John. This was all to be left in trust granted to Viscountess Irwin.
She also made reference to bank annuities from 1747, but provided no explanation as to exactly what consisted of. She left £1,000 to a Mary Greenwood, wife of John Greenwood, of Whitkirk, but again, sadly no explanation as to who this was, or whether John and Mary were connected to her, and also to a Christopher Wainwright she left, 10 guineas.
She also made provision for her employees – household linen and wearing apparel to her chambermaid, Deborah and money to Catherine Houseman, her cook. Not only her wages, to Catherine, but also her ‘Mr Wesley’s unbound magazines‘, which she clearly felt Catherine would really appreciate.
She also mentioned Miss Gordon and Miss Alice Scott, to whom she bequeathed a miniature of Lady Irwin. Her will was proven 5 May 1807.
There was an account in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine of 1840 about a Mrs Bywater, who had died in 1837. Mrs Bywater being nee Houseman (Catherine) which made reference to Mary Anne and provided a small glimpse into her later life:
In the year 1797, following, as she believed, the leadings of divine providence, she engaged in the service of that venerable saint, the late Mrs Deane of Whitkirk. Her fellow servant was also a deeply pious young woman, and they both enjoyed peculiar privileges while dwelling under that favoured roof. Mrs Dean was so infirm that, though the church was not far distant, it was very difficult to get her there; and, as her hearing was far from good, she could not hear much of the service; and though she could join in the prayers, yet the sermon was lost to her. The servants were induced to propose to her to have preaching on Sunday evenings in the front kitchen; and to this she readily consented, attending as long as she was able, and fining the service very profitable.
In The Sword and The Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin and of Labour for the Lord, edited by C.H Spurgeon, written in 1873, Spurgeon was writing about the Yorkshire farmer and preacher, William Dawson, who had given the sermon at Mary Anne’s funeral. It was said that Mary Anne was very attached to Dawson and was in the habit of designating him, ‘My Willy’.
The late Mrs Deane who resided at that time at Whitkirk near Leeds, was considered as ranking among the higher circles. She had occasionally heard Mr Ingram and Mr Edwards, who had withdrawn himself from Mr Wesley, and had built himself a place of worship, known by the name of ‘White Chapel’, at Leeds, where he continued to dispense the Word of Life for more than thirty years.
Mr Edwards mentioned Mrs Dean to Lady Huntingdon, who observing the mark of a penitent in her, invited her to her house, and there she became acquainted with those bright stars that shone in England, and now shine in heaven. Messrs Whitefield, the Wesley’s, Venn, Ingram, Romain and other clergymen who found a welcome in that honourable house. She had frequent opportunities of conversing with Lady Huntingdon and enjoying those spiritual pleasures which would naturally result from communication with one so well qualified as that excellent lady, to direct and comfort the Christian in his road to glory.
Mrs Dean was a woman of rank, of superior education and accomplishments, ad her letters and meditations afford strong proofs that if there be any happiness separate from union and communication with God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Mrs Deane was nearly allied to the noble family of Charles, Viscount Irvine, of Temple Newson. His Lordship, who had succeeded to the title in 1763, had married Miss Shepheard, a lady possessed of a very great fortune. Mrs Deane’s attachment to and affection for Lady Irvine and every member of that honourable family were remarkable, and always appeared so vigorous that they were constantly breaking forth in the most aren’t prayers for their eternal welfare. She soon brought her Ladyship acquainted with Lady Huntingdon, and never failed to invite Lord and Lady Irvine to her house whenever the Countess was at Leeds, or at Ledstone Hall.
The account goes on to say that Lady Irvine outlived her ‘old friend and relative’ and that Mary Anne died at the age of 88 years and nine months. Hopefully in due course more information can be found about Mary Anne’s earlier life.
Although John Spilsbury lived for a mere 30 years, his legacy to the world is one that will be remembered by many, as he was the inventor of what we know today as, the jigsaw puzzle. What do we know about his short life?
John was one of three boys born to Thomas and Mary Spilsbury, a block maker (a person who engraved or set up the clocks used in block printing). Another son Jonathon became a renowned engraver in London, whilst Thomas, who appears to have been the youngest son, became an outstanding printer, said to be able to print French accurately.
Today though, we’re going to take a glimpse into the life of the John. In 1753 John began a seven year apprenticeship to Thomas Jefferys (1719-1771), Geographer to King George III.
It would appear that John left London after completing his apprenticeship and travelled to Suffolk where he met Sarah, the daughter of John May with the couple marrying at Newmarket on 30 July 1761.
Just over a year after they married Sarah gave birth to an infant whose life was to be short lived, as was so common at that time, a daughter, Mary, however, two years later a second child, Sarah was born whilst the couple lived in Newmarket, Suffolk.
At some stage after this they moved back to London where John set up his own business using the skills learnt from Jefferys, but John was to take a slightly different route to his master, and created what would become known at the time as, ‘dissected maps’.
In the early 1760’s John decided to paste an engraved map onto a thin sheet of mahogany, cut it up along the country or county borders, jumbled the pieces together and advertised them for sale in a box, to be reassembled. With that the jigsaw began its life being sold from his print shop in Russell Court, London.
His trade card apparently listed some 30 different dissected maps on sale at his print shop, with prices ranging from 7 shilling and sixpence to £1 1 shilling. Such prices made them quite expensive, but this was due to the price of the wood use and the box used to house it. The puzzles were educational, to teach people about the known countries of the world, but as they were expensive, they were limited to only those with plenty of money to spare.
This cabinet belonged to Lady Charlotte Finch, Royal Governess to the children of George III. She had it commissioned to hold several dissected map puzzles, which she had created for the royal children. V&A
This diversion from his main print business wasn’t to last for very long as John died on 3 April 1769. Only six days after John’s death, newly widowed Sarah took their newborn son, also named John, to be baptised at St Martin in the Fields parish church, young John being born the previous day.
In December 1767 John wrote his will, in it he left his estate, including his business stock to his wife Sarah, plus £100 to his daughter, Sarah who was, by this time working in the family firm. The money was held in trust until she reached the full age of twenty one. He also left £20 to ‘each of my brothers and sisters’. His will was proven 10 April 1769.
London Packet 5 April 1771
Sarah wasted little time in marrying for a second time, her new husband was Henry Ashby (1744-1818), who coincidently, had also worked with Thomas Jefferys with the couple marrying in November 1769.
You can just see the Ashby name on this trade card, in tiny writing in the middle, at the bottom of the card.
Although Sarah took over her husband’s business of jigsaw making, it eventually merged into Henry’s engraving business, but it’s good to see Mrs Spilsbury’s name in print, this text appears just beneath the header image, as well as in the advert for the dissected maps, above.
Despite the businesses change of direction, the concept of jigsaw puzzles survived and here we have it referenced in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, when Fanny Price was derided by her cousin because she
cannot put the map of Europe together or my cousin cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia, or, she never heard of Asia Minor, or she does not know the or she does not know the difference between water-colours and crayons! How strange! Did you ever hear anything so stupid?’
It is likely that Martin born in 1736 and was the son of John Butchell of Flanders origin, who was believed to have been tapestry maker to King George II. Quite how accurate any of that is remains unknown as to date, as I have found nothing to confirm it.
Martin it appears had no wish to join his father’s trade and inadvertently, due to a broken tooth, decided to become a dentist and studied under the celebrated Dr Hunter after whom The Hunterian Museum is named. It would seem that Martin had a natural talent for this kind of work and acquired many clients due to his skill.
Real or Artificial Teeth from one to an entire set, with superlative gold pivots or springs, also gums, sockets and palate formed, fitted, finished and fixed without drawing stumps, or causing pain.
He then began to expand his skills and proved that he was proficient in making trusses for people suffering from hernia’s, so much so that his skills were actively sought ought and his fame stretched as far as Holland, with an eminent Dutch physician travelling to London to be treated by him. In return, the physician taught Martin how to cure fistulas.
Martin married in 1767, at the age of 31 Martin, his bride being Mary Billion, a widow, at St George’s, Hanover Square and we can only assume that they had a happy marriage until her death in 1775.
When Martin’s wife died, he found fame again, but this time for something more macabre than dentistry. Martin loved his wife so much that he couldn’t bear to have her buried, but it is also said that there was a clause in their marriage certificate which provided income for Martin as long as Mary was ‘above ground’. Whichever story you believe, Martin did not have her buried, instead, he had her embalmed and dressed her in her wedding dress:
Mr Van Butchell a celebrated dentist, had the misfortune about five months ago to lose his wife, for whom he had the greatest regard. He sent for Dr Hunter, and his assistant Mr Crookshanks, and desired they would embalm Mrs Van Butchell, the lady deceased, which they did after an entire new method, invented by Dr Hunter, and made use of for embalming the late Lady Holland. The bowels were first taken out. The vessels were afterwards emptied as perfectly as possible, of the blood which they contained, and injected with the oil of turpentine. After the body was well impregnated with that powerful preservative, a large quantity of red waxy injection was thrown into the vessels, which entering their minute cavities and distending them, gave to the face and other parts of the body a most striking appearance of life.
The cavity of the body was filled with various aromatic ingredients, and she was decently laid in a handsome box, and under her there is some powder of the plaster of Paris to absorb any moisture which might drain from the embalmed boy. In the lids of the box are glasses over her face and legs. A physician, with whom I am intimately acquainted, saw her the other day, and informed me that the face of Mrs Butchell is not in the least shrunk; that it is not quite so fair as it was, but that the redness from the injection is very striking, and that the legs appear as perfectly natural as the first. Mr Van Butchell keeps her constant in the parlour where he sits, shows her to all his friends when they visit him, and says that it is the only consolation he had since her death.
On 29 Jun 1780 Martin married for a second time, his new wife being Elizabeth Sanders. He gave his first wife a choice in the colour of her clothing, either black or white, she chose black, so Elizabeth chose the opposite, deciding on white.
As his first wife was still in the house, understandably, having three people in this relationship, albeit only two alive, wasn’t going to work for Elizabeth, and at some stage it was decided that his first wife, Mary, could no longer remain in their home and her body was removed to a museum, ultimately it ended up in the Royal College of Surgeon’s Museum where it remained until the museum was bombed in 1941.
The couple then settled down to have a very large family, four boys and five girls. Their eldest child being Edwin Martin was born in 1781, followed by Jacob John who died in infancy, Isaac, who tragically died in a boating accident in 1806, leaving Martin distraught, Sidney Job born 1789 and finally Daniel David, born 1795. Of the girls it appears only one survived into adulthood, Augusta Elizabeth, born 1784. The other girls who may or may not have survived infancy were not mentioned in his will, these being, Emma Lydy, born 1791, Celia Ann, 1793, Maria Susan, 1797 and Clara Flora 1799, making Martin 63 when the last child was born. Another of his idiosyncrasies was to summon his children by whistling rather than calling them.
Martin continued to work until elderly, but trained up his two son, Edwin and Sidney to follow in his footsteps, with both coming surgeons.
Martin also owned a pony which he would often ride around Hyde Park, usually on Sundays. Sometimes he would paint the pony all purple, sometimes with purple spots, other times with black spots and with streaks and circles upon his face and hind parts and of the various colours, Martin told people that each spot cost him a guinea – so more money than sense.
The Morning Post 4 November 1814 carried the following notification:
Died, on Sunday evening, at his house in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, in the 80th year of his age, Martin Van Butchell, well known for his numerous eccentricities, particularly for wearing a beard of twenty year’s growth.
On 11 March 1814, Martin sat down to write his will at his home 56, Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, London, which, as you would perhaps expect, the majority of it was to be left to his eldest son, Edwin Martin who was living at 24 Broad Street, Golden Square on the proviso that he provided for and supported his mother, Elizabeth. To his surviving two children Augusta Elizabeth, by then Mrs Jacobs and Sidney Job, who received £50 each. What is slightly curious is that his will was witnessed by a Daniel David Van Butchell, was this his youngest son who was born in 1795, in which case he wasn’t provided for within the will?
Life and character of the celebrated Mr. Martin Van Butchell, surgeon dentist and fistula curer, of Mount-street, Berkeley-square. 1803
Derby Mercury – Friday 12 May 1775
Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1567
Number 11 (centre left) – Martin Van Butchell. British Museum
Let me introduce you to James Burns, better known to all as ‘Squeaking Tommy’.
So, what do we know about this character?
We can see from the picture of Tommy that he carried around with him a doll with a broad face, wrapped in a piece of linen cloth which he exhibited at pubs on race days, at fairs, such as the famous Nottingham Goose Fair. He would use the doll as his assistant and projected his voice through it.
It is reported that in June 1789, at Week Day Cross in Nottingham, he used the doll to project his voice and it was so convincing that a child watching believed that the doll was actually talking to her. The child apparently became hysterical and caused her to have fits. The authorities were not impressed by this and Tommy was sent off for a spell in the House of Correction.
Undeterred however, Tommy continued to use his ventriloquists skill around the county.
In early 1790, Tommy called at Mr Barton’s grocers shop just outside Nottingham city centre. He purchased an ounce of tobacco, nothing odd about that, except, as he was leaving, he spotted a young employee with his hand in a large cannister on the opposite side of the shop. The young man was getting tea out of it and putting it into a smaller cannister. Tommy immediately threw a sound into the bottom of the container, imitating the sounds of a dying animal.
So, as you expect, the young man and Mr Barton stood aghast at the noise and were just about to start rummaging around in the container to find the source. Eventually, Tommy confessed that he was the real cause of the sound but not before enjoying this spectacle.
Another of his pranks is said to have taken place in August 1792. Tommy was travelling with a John Badderly, who was at the time servant to farmer from Car Colston, just outside Nottingham. John was driving a waggon which was full to the brim with hay. Tommy was so skilled at imitating the cry of a child that he was able to project his voice into the middle of the hay waggon causing John to stop several times between Bingham and Newark.
John was so convinced he could hear this sound in the hay that eventually he stopped and began to examine the hay more closely to find out where the sound was coming from and enlisted Tommy’s help to unload the waggon as he could bear this child’s crying no longer. But as you can imagine, there was no child, leaving poor John to reassemble the contents of his waggon, much to Tommy’s amusement and John’s annoyance at being deceived.
Another prank took place in the house of a Mr Hogg, who kept the Milton’s Head Inn, Cow Lane, Nottingham, and who knew nothing of Tommy. A servant girl in the kitchen was about to dress some dead fish, not long having been caught in the river Trent, but obviously dead. Tommy, at the moment she laid the life knife on the fish’s neck, uttered ‘don’t cut my head off’. The girl as you can imagine was extremely startled and quickly removed the knife from the fish and just stood there in shock.
She eventually managed to compose herself, and as the fish didn’t move, she plucked up courage to continue with her work and remove the fish’s head. Tommy uttered rather sharply, but mournfully, ‘what, you will cut of my head?’ The girl was now terrified and threw down the knife and refused to dress the fish.
Tommy eventually settled in Shelford, Nottingham, where, despite being extremely reluctant to settle, found himself a wife and married Elizabeth Munks, on Boxing Day 1794 at the parish church. According to his marriage entry, he was said to have been from King’s County, now County Offaly in Ireland. As to how accurate that is we will probably never know.
But marriage didn’t settle him too much and his travels continued, albeit quite locally, along with his pranks and the final one I have details of, took place in September 1795.
Tommy visited a fish stall in Sheffield and asked the price of a tench. The fish woman gave him the price of the tench, at which point he picked it up in his hand, crammed a finger into its gills and opened its mouth, at the same time asking whether it was fresh, to which the fish woman replied it certainly was, it was in the water yesterday.
Tommy immediately threw his voice into the fish’s mouth and it said,
it’s a damned lie, I have not been in the water this week, and you know that very well’
The woman, now aware that she hadn’t exactly been telling the truth, was aghast by this outburst, but she struggled to dispute it. She was said to have been much more careful in the future about the freshness of her fish – just in case!
I’m sure there must have been many more, similar tales, but they don’t seem to have survived into history.
Sadly, Tommy’s marriage was to be short lived as he died just two years later on 7 January 1796 and was buried in the parish church where the couple had recently married.
Stamford Mercury – Friday 22 January 1796
Kirkby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum
Goodacre, William, 1803-1883; Nottingham Market Place
What an amazing aquatint of a woman I would love to have met. It was produced after her death, but it’s full of such character, but who was she? Her name was Isabella, known to all as Tibby Tinkler.
The image itself does provide a few clues about her. We know that she was a bookseller in the town of Richmond, North Yorkshire and possibly the very first in Richmond and that the image above by George Cuitt, of Richmond, tells us that it was produced after her death in 1794 when she was aged 92.
Now, firstly, was she really 92 when she died? well yes, for a change we know that this to have been accurate.
She was born Isabel, rather than Isabella Foster, and her baptism tells us that she was baptised on 15 June 1702 in Richmond, North Yorkshire, her father being named as Francis, so perhaps she simply preferred the extended name, so we’ll continue to use that.
Isabella was the middle of five children, her siblings being Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and Menhill. On 30 July 1732 she married Robert Tinkler and the couple lived in Richmond for the rest of their lives, although Robert originated from Darlington, North Yorkshire.
For how many years they owned and ran the bookshop is unclear, but Isabella was definitely trading under her own name, in August 1769, according to the Newcastle Courant, which was quite unusual for a woman of that period and her name stands out here, as the only woman listed.
We know that Isabella was widowed April 1782 and that her husband Robert was buried in the parish church which would have meant that Isabella was left to continue running the book shop alone, as they had no children to help her.
In Harry Speight’s book, Romantic Richmondshire, written in 1897, Isabella was described as being:
Quite a character in her way. Her real name was Isabella Tinkler, but she was always known as ‘Tibby’ and few in her trade knew more of books, their histories, mysteries, prices current etc. George Cuitt, the artist etched her portrait in a characteristic attitude in her shop.
On 29 April 1791, Isabella sat down and dictated her last will and testament. She was clearly unable to write as she marked it with a X, the standard way to sign your name if unable to write it, which begs the question as to whether she could read – an interesting thought in light of her occupation or maybe her inability to write her name was simply down to her age.
Isabella made provision for what appears to be quite a number of friends, so she was obviously a popular woman. She named some 14 people in her will leaving them a variety of sums of money, from one guinea to ten guineas each and named an Isabella Brough, who lived with her, as her executrix and to Isabella she left the remainder of her goods and effects, but no explanation as to who she was, a servant, nurse or simply a friend.
Another indication that she was well known being that the Newcastle Courant of 11 October 1794, published news of her demise.
After her death, the bookshop was taken over by Mr John Bell, who was father to the well known George Bell of the well known London publishers.
If anyone knows anything more about her, I would love to hear from you.
Yorkshire Notes and Queries Vol 1-2. 1888
Easby Hall and Easby Abbey with Richmond, Yorkshire in the Background by George Cuitt (1743-1818)
This portrait caught my eye recently whilst looking at portraits by Gainsborough and I was curious to know a little more about her, especially as she was sporting the high hair fashion of the day.
She was Carolina (not Caroline as noted in many places) Alicia Fleming, born in 1755 to parents Gilbert Fane Fleming and Camilla Bennet. It’s worth mentioning that Carolina’s maternal grandparents were Charles, Bennet, 2nd Earl of Tankerville (1697-1753) and Camilla Colville (1698 -1775). Camilla being a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline and afterwards to the Princess Augusta.
In July 1776 Carolina married the baronet, John Brisco (1739-1805). It was just one year after their marriage that Carolina’s father died, and in his will he made provision for Carolina’s husband to take over ownership of his two plantations on the island of St Christopher, Westhope in St Peters Basseterre and Salt Ponds in St Geo. Basseterre.
Of course, along with the plantations were slaves, in this case the couple inherited a considerable number to work on the plantations. So far as I can tell the couple spent no time at their plantations, presumably preferring to leave them to be managed on their behalf and simply reaping the rewards from the crops. The couple owned several properties around the country including their country estate, Crofton Hall in Cumbria and a house on Wimpole Street in London.
The couple had seven known children, although most sources imply that there were just three. The seven being, Camilla born 1777, their son and heir Wastel in 1778, Caroline the following year, Fleming John in 1781, Augusta in 1783, Emma the next year, followed by Frederick in 1790 and finally, Henry in 1796.
In 1804 just prior to his death, Sir John Briscoe also purchased Alexander Pope’s house at Twickenham, which Lady Briscoe retained for just a couple of years after his death before selling it in 1807 to Baroness Howe of Langar, who, having already demolished Langar Hall, went on to demolish Pope’s house too.
After the death of Sir John, his son and heir, Wastel, inherited all the estates and in November 1806 he married Sarah Lester, daughter of a Mr Ladbrook. Now, despite producing three children including a son and heir, this marriage that proved to be something of a disaster. It is from this point onwards that Lady Carolina’s story has, I’m afraid, been hijacked by that of her son, Wastel. Please be aware, it does not make for pleasant reading from this point onwards.
By 1813, Lady Sarah had had more than enough of her husband and took him to court for cruelty and adultery. This was to prove to be an incredibly lengthy affair lasting for over ten years. Lady Sarah remained at their home in London, whilst her erstwhile husband went to live in their country estate in Cumbria.
As well as the issue of adultery the tricky subject of money reared its ugly head and how much money each of them had and how much they believed they should have as a result of a possible divorce.
Lady Sarah made quite a few purchases for items she needed, not least clothes, as it would appear that during their dispute, Sir Wastel burnt most of her clothes which were valued at in excess of £200 (which is about £10,000 in today’s money).
Sir Wastel however, disputed, not the burning, but the value of the said clothing, and according to him they were worth a mere £10 or £500 in today’s money. Lady Sarah stressed that she not only required new clothes, but that she needed sufficient money from him to live in the lifestyle she was accustomed to and to ensure that his children were well provided for.
Eventually the court allocated Lady Sarah £200 a year, plus £200 a year pin money, but the battles over money continued for years, with Lady Sarah claiming that her husband had been having a relationship with a servant at their home in London, one Sarah Stow of Norfolk. He in turn, accused her of adultery.
Sir Wastel moving out of the marital home and set up home with his mistress, eventually moving to their country residence in Cumbria, where Sarah Stow continued to live as his ‘housekeeper’. Sarah Stow by this time also used the surname Stageman.
The couple, once free of Lady Sarah, although not legally, went on to have at least eleven children, all baptised with just Sarah Stow’s name, no father was named, but you would have thought everyone in the local area would have easily put two and two together to work out who the father was.
It isn’t until you look at her will, which was proven 1853, that you notice that she referred to herself as Sarah Stageman, otherwise Stow. There’s no explanation as to why she used the name Stageman, but it’s you take a look at the slavery register for 1827-1828 for slaves owned by Sir Wastel, that a familiar name appears, in the form of his attorney – a James Stageman. It’s such an unusual surname that he must surely, in some way be connected to Sarah, but to date I’ve no idea how.
Sir Wastel died 1 October 1862 at his country home, at which time his son and heir inherited the title and estate, but what became of his wife, Lady Sarah?
After several years spent intermittently living apart, Sir Wastel stopped paying alimony and found himself back in court, well he would have, had he bothered to appear, instead found himself in contempt of court.
It was in June 1826, that Lady Sarah found herself accused of adultery with the Sir John Winnington, by his wife. In this instance Lady Winnington was granted her divorce as the evidence was clear, he was guilty of adultery with Lady Sarah.
Lady Sarah’s battle with her husband, as they were still not divorced, continued to rage, so much so that he took out the following advertisement in the local newspaper.
Yet again, in 1830, Sir Wastel found himself in court this time, it was a case against him for non-payment of accounts due to a Mr David, that had been accrued by Lady Sarah. On this occasion a number of witnesses were called who testified about the nature of Lady Sarah’s relationship with her husband.
One witness said she had seen him in a compromising position with another woman, another witness, that she had seen Lady Sarah coming downstairs with blood pouring from her mouth and how cruelly she was treated by her husband. Another that she often had cuts and bruises on her body, had her hair pulled out in handfuls, and had been locked in her room with no food or water, the list went on and made for shocking reading. In a nutshell he said that he would persecute her for as long as she lived, which seemingly he did. The judge found in favour of Sir Wastel and that he was not liable for Lady Sarah’s debts.
Life just even worse for Lady Sarah when in 1833 she found herself spending two months in the house of correction at Coldbath Fields, for libel. A few years later she found herself in court once more, again for libel. Lady Sarah died in 1840 and had spent the majority of her life living in fear of her husband and being pursued by him to the end.
Georgiana had three legitimate children with William, 5th Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana, known as ‘Little G’ born 1783, followed by Harriet, known affectionately as ‘Harryo’, born 1785 and finally, a son and heir William, who was born in May 1790, whilst the couple were in Paris and who would later become 6th Duke of Devonshire. The 5th Duke also had an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte Williams, about whom I have written previously (see highlighted link)..
The couple waited until 20 May 1791 to have their son baptised at St George’s Hanover Square and the following month attended court to celebrate King George III’s birthday. It would have been around this time that Georgiana found herself pregnant again, this child however, was the result of her affair with Charles Grey.
The child, named Elizabeth Courtney, was said to have been born on 20 February 1792, at Aix de Provence, France. She was then taken back to England to be raised by Charles Grey’s parents, as his sibling, rather than his daughter. Eliza, as she was known, although seeing her mother, was unaware of the familial connection until after the death of Georgiana.
The disgraced, Georgiana was given a choice by her husband, either a divorce which would give him the ability to remarry, or to go into exile. In order to protect her children, she chose the latter.
In October 1791 she left England for Paris, accompanied by Lord and Lady Duncannon, probably better known as Bessborough, Georgiana’s sister and brother-in-law, which would have been an interesting journey, given that Lord Bessborough had begun divorce proceeding against Henrietta the previous year. By this time Georgiana would have been about five months pregnant.
Her poem, The Passage of the Mountain of Saint Gothard, was based on her passage of the Saint Gotthard Pass in August 1793 on her return to England.
The Hampshire Chronicle, 6 January 1800, along with other newspapers printed the poem in full accompanied by a brief extract about her travels. This was just over one year after the birth of Elizabeth Courtney.
The extract gives us a fleeting glimpse into where she visited and who she travelled with, although it’s not entirely clear who all her companions were. The newspaper article began with an advisory, that publication was delayed for the following reason:
We have, through the length of the French Constitution, and other important, but temporary matter, deferred till now inserting the above elegant piece of composition; confident that its merits would render it acceptable to our readers at any time. Her Grace has adopted the measure, and justice compels us to add, caught the spirit of Gray’s Elegy. There are many passage, which in sublimity, beauty and classic allusion, divide approbation even with that celebrated performance.
In 1799 her most famous poem was published, not only in book form but also in the newspaper and can be read in full by following this link.
The published extract from her journal which gives us a very brief glimpse into what her journey would have been like at that time:
We quitted Italy in August 1793 and passed into Switzerland over the mountain of St Gothard. The third crop of corn was already standing in Lombardy.
We left Lady Spencer and Lady Bessborough at the Baths of Lucca, intending to pass the winter at Naples.
The contrast between Switzerland and the Milanese appeared very striking. The Milanese were infested with a band of robbers that caused us some alarm and obliged us to use some precautions; but from the moment we entered the mountains of Switzerland, we travelled without fear, and felt perfectly secure. Death is the punishment of robbers; this punishment, however, very rarely occurs. At Lausanne there had been but one execution in fifteen years.
On the 9th we embarked upon Lago Maggiore, at the little town of Sisto, situated where the Tesino runs out of the lake. In the course of two days navigation, we particularly admired the striking and colossal statue of St. Charles Borromeo (with its pedestal two feet from the ground). The beautiful Borromean Islands, and the shores of the lake, are interspersed with towns and wood, and crowned with the distant view of the Alps.
On the evening of the 10th, we landed at Magadino, one of the three Cisalpine Baliages belonging to Switzerland; and as the air was too noxious for us to venture to sleep there, we sent for horses to conduct us to Belinzona, a pretty town in the midst of high mountains, under the jurisdiction of three of the Swiss Cantons, Switz, Underald and Uri. From hence (after having prepared horses, chairs and guides, and having our carriages taken in pieces) we set out on the evening of the 12th to enter the mountain and ascended gradually by a road that nearly followed the course of the Tesino. The Tesino takes its rise not far from the summit of St. Gothard and joins the Po near Pavia.
St Gothard itself arises from the top of several other high mountains. Some have given 17,600 fee of perpendicular height from the level of the sea; but General Plyffer, who completed the celebrated model of that part of Switzerland surrounding Lucerne, makes it only 9,075 feet about the Mediterranean.
There is a small convent at the top of the mountain, where two monks reside and who are obliged to receive and entertain the poor traveller that passes that way. Padre Lorenzo had lived there for twenty years and seemed a sensible and benevolent man. They have a large dairy and make excellent cheese. Five small lakes which are at the top of the mountain supply them with fish. The monks are Capuchins and belong to a convent at Milan.
Although Georgiana returned in 1793, her mother and sister remained in Europe for a further year, with Georgiana meeting them at Harwich.
Following this enforced exile, Georgiana returned to England to continue caring for her children, living in a ménage à trois and playing out the role of the dutiful wife, until her death in March 1806.
The Passage of the Mountain of Saint Gothard: A Poem; by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Sketch of a descriptive journey through Switzerland to which is added a poem by her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire. Attributed to Rowley Lascelles 1816
Derby Mercury 9 June 1791
The World 24 November 1791
True Briton 11 August 1794
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her daughter Georgiana, later Countess of Carlisle 1807-08 by William Etty. Royal Collection Trust
Well, this certainly was not a proverbial rabbit hole I expected to find myself down when this beautiful portrait caught my eye. I simply wanted to know more about the young lady whose beauty had been captured by George Romney. The portrait is of ‘Elizabeth Ramus (1751-1848), the daughter of Nicholas Ramus and subsequently wife of Baron de Nougal’.
Instead the research took something of a curious turn that I really could not have foreseen, and led to an ongoing piece of potentially ‘fake news’ regarding the young Princess Elizabeth (1770-1840), the third daughter of King George III.
This story has been around for well over a century, but no-one knows from quite where it originated. The story goes like this – when in her teens, Princess Elizabeth had unlawfully married the mysterious George Ramus who worked in the royal household and in 1788 they had a child, Elizabeth Louisa, who was taken to India by her uncle, Henry Ramus of the East India Company where she was raised as his daughter.
The Royal Archives had checked their records and there was no sign of a George Ramus being employed in the Royal Household, so did George Ramus ever exist? Arthur Crisp in his, Visitation of England and Wales in 1896 also referenced the marriage of the princess to George Ramus, but never cited his source for this snippet of this information and therefore history has continued to repeat it as fact.
The story may have been true, but where was the supporting evidence. Despite Crisp being renowned for his accuracy I noted an error in that specific entry which has never been picked up, which for me, throws doubt upon the rest of it, but more about that later.
The story has continued to be retold in books and online, right up to this day, with most people, dismissing it as fiction, but with little supporting evidence either way and if it were fiction then why bother retelling it, or does it simply provide a salacious piece of Georgian gossip, with no substance?
When young, Princess Elizabeth was known to have issues with her health and especially her weight and was, according to the newspapers frequently ‘indisposed’ and regularly suffered from ‘fainting fits’ and ‘corpulency’ as the press referred to her weight gain. Could someone simply have been making mischief by saying that she looked pregnant and from there the Chinese whispers began?
At first sight I wondered if there could be even a grain of truth in the story, after all the child did exist, and she was born in 1788 and lived until 1869, so let’s see how this works out.
Henry Charles Ramus (1752-1822) was one of the sons of Nicholas Ramus (c1709-1779), a native of Switzerland and his wife Benedict nee Covert (? -1796).
Henry’s father, Nicholas, was employed in the Royal Household from 1748 as ‘page of the backstairs’ to King George III whilst he was still Prince of Wales, and then from 1756-1760, he became ‘page of the bedchamber’. On his death his obituary confirmed that he had worked for the royal family for nearly 40 years.
Apart from his father, several members of the Ramus family were also employed in a variety of positions within the royal household, his uncle Louis was the purveyor of cheese, butter, eggs, oatmeal and dried pease and his other uncle, Charles appears to have been employed in the household of Augusta, Princess (later Princess Dowager) of Wales 1736-1772 as Clerk to the Vice Chamberlain.
Henry’s cousin, Joseph (1747-1818), son of his uncle Charles, ultimately became Gentleman of the royal wine cellar and his brother William (1751-1792), was first page to his majesty until being dismissed in 1789 during the King’s illness for offensive curiosity about ‘His majesty’s looks and gestures’.
William, who apparently had no idea what he done wrong packed his bags and set off for the East Indies, but not before taking with him a glowing reference from the Prince of Wales, of whom he was a favoured courtier.
Rather than joining the Royal Household, Henry left England having joined the East India Company. He left behind several siblings – George (1747-1808), who was, by 1785 one of the Chief Clerks to the Treasury and it was he that was reputedly the ‘husband’ of Princess Elizabeth; Benedette (c1752-1811) who we see below, (also painted by Romney, sadly the original of her portrait was destroyed in a fire) who married Sir John Day in 1777, and Elizabeth, who was the original protagonist of this story until it was hijacked. Elizabeth married Baron Pierre Augustin De Nougal de la Loyne in 1797.
Once in India Henry Charles Ramus met and married, Miss Joanna Vernet daughter of the Honourable George Vernet, who ultimately became Governor and Director of Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, more commonly known as the Dutch East India Company.
Henry and Joanna spent much of their married life in India, where they had four legitimate daughters, Marian, Louisa, Harriot and their youngest daughter, born 1791, Isabella and one son, John Henry. In addition to these, Henry also fathered an illegitimate daughter, Maria.
All of their children were born in India, so where did this other daughter, Elizabeth Louisa materialise from? If they spent all their lives in India, then how did they acquire her? I was beginning to think there was some truth in the story after all.
Did they really make the long journey to England after Princess Elizabeth had given birth and take the child to India with them or did someone take her out to India? Records tells us that Elizabeth Louisa was certainly raised in India and married her husband James Money in Bengal in 1804.
This really wasn’t adding up. However, trawling through the newspapers an interesting article came to light. No, they didn’t stay in India permanently, in fact in 1787 they made a trip to England. According to the Calcutta Gazette 15 November 1787:
At three o’clock yesterday morning, the Honourable Company’s Ship the Ravensworth, Captain Roddam, weighed anchor and left the roads for Europe. Henry Ramus Esq and Lady; ThomasHenchman Esq. and Messrs Dent and Yonge, are passengers.
The Derby Mercury 27 March 1788 also provided the route for the Ravensworth
Arrived in England on 23 March 1788. She left Bengal on 7 October 1787, then at Fort St George on 23 October 1787, sailing on to arrive in St Helena on 29 January 1788, then left on 3 February 1788. The ship eventually arrived in Dover 23 March 1788.
So how was Princess Elizabeth spending her time around this period? I’ve decided to try to trace her public engagements to see whether being pregnant she had been taken away to a secret location out of the public gaze.
Another newspaper article 5 June 1788 provides a glimpse of Prince Elizabeth attending a party for her father’s 51st birthday at which the whole family were in attendance along with other aristocrats. Princess Elizabeth was described as:
wearing body and train laylock and white, the petticoat richly embroidered, with a sash of crape fastened on one side with a plume of white feathers, green spangles and bunches of roses.
If the myth had any grain of truth in it, then by the King’s birthday, Elizabeth would have been about 6 months pregnant – I rather think this would have been highly visible for all to see.
Other later newspaper articles confirms that in between bouts of illness Princess Elizabeth was publicly visible during this reputed pregnancy, attending the theatre, meeting with members of the nobility, taking a trip along with most of the other royals to Cheltenham in July. She was also present in August to celebrate her brother, the Prince of Wales birthday.
Given that Elizabeth Louisa was born on 12 September 1788, she must, assuming she was carried full term, have been conceived around Christmas 1787. This would place Henry and Joanna at sea enroute from Fort St George and St Helena.
Henry and Joanna presented the child, theirs or otherwise, for baptism at St George’s Hanover Square on 17 October 1788 before returning to India. Would they really have presented a child for baptism that wasn’t theirs? To me, that seems somewhat unlikely, unless the Ramus family would do anything to protect the royal family’s reputation.
With a little stretching of the imagination, it’s just about plausible that the child was Princess Elizabeth’s and that royal family and the entire household and employees including the likes of Frances Burney, Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte and Mrs Papendiek, Queen Charlotte’s lady-in-waiting, were all aware of it and sworn to secrecy, and that the Ramus’s collected the child after she was born and that their being in England at the right time was simply extremely fortuitous, as they had set off from India prior to the child’s conception, but sorry, no, I simply don’t buy into the story. In my opinion the child was Henry and Joanna’s.
I would also question the likelihood of Princess Elizabeth having had any kind of relationship with a Treasury Clerk who was almost double her age as I’m struggling to see any way in which their paths could have crossed.
Hopefully, this has provided a little more padding on the bare bones of this story, but there still remains no conclusive answer either way, but perhaps a little more evidence for readers to make their own judgement.
Just one final observation, when Henry Charles Ramus died, he left a legacy for his wife Joanna, and his sister, Elizabeth who I began this story with.
Other beneficiaries included his illegitimate daughter, Maria, now married to William Bertram, Marian Helen who was married Edward Stopford and Isabella who had married Robert Keate and finally his son John Henry. We know that Elizabeth was still very much alive, why was she ignored in his will, because she wasn’t actually his daughter perhaps or perhaps there was some other unexplained reason that hasn’t come into view yet.
I did say I would come back to the entry by Crisp about Princess Elizabeth’s reputed daughter, the error was in the naming of Elizabeth Louisa’s daughter, he referenced her as Marian Martha Money, she was actually Marian Patty (1805-1869), and there was another daughter, Charlotte Eliza Money (1807-1886).
Kentish Gazette 28 September 1792
London Chronicle 9 February 1779
Morning Post 24 March 1789
The World 20 August 1788
Burney Fanny. The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney: Volume II
Burney, Fanny. The early diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778
Childe-Pemberton, William. The Romance of Princess Amelia, daughter of George III (1783-1810) including extracts from private and unpublished papers
Papendiek, Charlotte. Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte: Being the Journals of Mrs. Papendiek
Stuart, Dorothy Margaret. The Daughters of George III
Jackson, Joseph. Harris George William. Crisp, Frederick Arthur. Visitation of England and Wales Volume 5. 1897
The Royal Family of England in the year 1787 Royal Collection Trust. Princess Elizabeth is on the right of the painting
Having previously taken a look at clothes washing in the 18th century in ‘Washday Blues‘, I thought it was worth taking a closer look at Edward Beetham, who invented a washing machine.
Washing machines have, in one form or another been around for some considerable time. The Salisbury and Hampshire Journal, 16 October 1752, carried the following advert for a machine capable of washing clothes:
JAMES MOULTON, Cooper and Turner
The corner of Church Row, without Aldgate, London
The most useful machine or Washing Engine of various sizes, made after the completest manner, both for dispatch and strength, ease in the operation, and safety to the finest linen, being adjudged by far superior to any former projections, by the repeated experience of thousands, who are pleased to given them that character, being capable of washing more linen in twenty minutes than can be done without in two hours, being determined to spare no expenses to maintain the character they have so justly acquired, which by some unskilful makers has been prejudiced in the use of so valuable a machine. Printed directions is given with all I sell how to use them, for the benefit of the public in general, and preventing imposition my name and place of abode, which is stamped as under the top.
Captains of ships may be supplied with any quantity on giving timely notice.
N.B. They are made from 14 shillings to 24.
The same year, The Gentleman’s Magazine also provided detailed information about the ‘Yorkshire Maiden‘ which was, presumably a similar machine, even though James Moulton, claimed his invention to be the best – well he would wouldn’t he, great marketing!
However, it was Edward Beetham’s invention that appears to have regarded as the first in Britain.
Edward was born Edward Beatham and baptised 29 March 1743 and from a very well to do Westmorland family, but apparently when he met his wife to be Isabella Robinson, from a Roman Catholic, Jacobite family, he made a minor change to his surname from Beatham to Beetham, to save both families from embarrassment. The couple were believed to have eloped and married at Trimdon near Durham on 13 June 1774.
Being financially ostracised from both families the couple set off for London. Edward wanted to work in the theatre and got work at the Haymarket and Sadler’s Wells theatres, but his creative talent lay in inventions.
Isabella, on the other hand, was a talented artist and studied under the miniature portraitist John Smart. Her forte lay in the creation of painted silhouettes to be framed or miniatures that were made for jewellery. Despite working long hours, the couple also had a large family of five children to raise and of course support financially. The couple lived at 27 Fleet Street, opposite St Dunstan’s Church, where Edward would, in due course be buried. For those of you familiar with my article you will know that I am extremely fond of trade cards, especially for women and look what I’ve found:
Beetham discovered that he was good at inventing things, but prior to his invention he had a variety of jobs including, according to the Hampshire Chronicle of October 1785, he was a bookseller.
Today though, we’ll look at his most famous invention – the washing machine, or, as it was known a washing mill. As you can imagine, having such a large family meant washing was plentiful.
The Northampton Mercury 7 July 1787 carried an account of a new machine for washing clothes, invented by a Mr Todd who had spent years creating a machine which could jointly wash and iron clothes much faster and better than could be one by hand. He had in fact patented the machine on 16 June 1787. The patent which can be found using this link provides the technical specification for the machine invented by Todd, but there is no sign of Beetham’s machine having been patented. Beetham’s name does however appear in the Catalogue of the Library of the Patent Office – Patent number 1744, dated 1791, so after Todd’s invention.
On 20 September 1787, the Derby Mercury advised us of Beetham’s new patented invention – the washing machine. His advert below tells us that he was in partnership with a Mr Thomas Todd, an organ builder, of St Peter’s Square, Leeds and that they had commissioned a Mr W Lomas a joiner, to manufacture the product on their behalf. It is not exactly clear from the advert though as to whether it was Beetham’s invention, joint or, given the earlier advert, actually the invention of Thomas Todd.
The machine could wash the finest and coarsest of items, it would reduce the workload by two thirds and reduce the amount of soap used by one third and could save the trouble of using boiling water.
It’s always interesting to know how much items cost at that time and Beetham very helpfully tells us:
One and a half feet in length £2, seven shillings
3 feet would cost £3, three shillings
3 and half feet, £3, thirteen shillings and six pence
4 feet at £4, four shillings
With a machine that was two feet in length you could wash eight shirts at once.
He even offered potential customers the facility of viewing an example of the working machine, at their convenience, of course, at the house of Mr Lomas.
In the same newspaper was an advert exactly the same as above, but viewable at Mr Saxtons house, also a joiner, in Alfreton, Derbyshire. The following week, an advert for a manufacturer in Leek, Staffordshire.
In October of the same year, he had expanded his suppliers to Mr William Lumby of Lincoln. The advert was ostensibly the same, but it was now also being recommended for use of board ships too. William and his partner were clearly ‘thinking outside the box’ for ways to expand their sales.
Tracing the adverts month by month, it would appear that by June 1791, Messrs Todd and Beetham had gone their separate ways. The advert in February 1791 appears to give us some clues, it seems that there were in fact two machines and Beetham challenged Todd:
Todd finds himself again publicly called up by Mr Beetham to accept a challenge to try the utility of each invention; he will therefore take upon himself to wash Mr Bentham with a single machine at any time, to satisfy the public that his machines are not only equal, but absolutely superior.
Beetham was now advertising his ‘Portable Washing Mills’ which he told potential byers could be viewed either at his warehouse on Fleet Street or at a whole host of outlets all around the east of England such as Colchester, Yarmouth, Diss and Ipswich.
As they had gone their separate ways Mr Todd was advertising his washing machine alone in Leeds, but with no mention of Beetham.
Beetham continued to trade until his death in January 1809. He left a will which was extremely short, simple and to the point:
1st part to his wife
2nd to daughter Jane
3rd to son William
4th daughter Harriett
5th to be invested
6th and 7th in trust for the three children aged under 21 – Charles Cecilia and Alfred.
Isabella continued with her creative work and outlived her husband and died at the age of 70, at the home of her son in law, on Great Smith Street, Chelsea in early August 1825.
To conclude this piece, I came across this image that I thought I’d share with you from Yale Center for British Art. This was the property of Dr Graham’s Cold Earth, and Warm Mud Bathing, and was next door to Edward and Isabella. I wonder whether they did his laundry!
Leeds Intelligencer 7 December 1790
Leeds Intelligencer 2 February 1791
Leeds Intelligencer 1 October 1792
DRAFT Advertisement for Edward Beetham’s Royal Patent Washing Mill. c.1790. British Museum
January is always associated with the making of New Year’s resolutions and one of these is often to go on a diet. With that in mind, in today’s post I’m taking a quick look through the Georgian newspapers in which I’ve come across a number of people who really wold have benefitted from dieting, after some serious cases of gross over-eating, so, here we go:
Caledonian Mercury, 20 November 1732
Joseph Barry mentioned in our last, besides the six pound weight of beef steaks, devoured a quarter loaf, drank two gallons of strong beer, and ate besides a pound of roast pork and two pounds of bread and cheese, between ten in the morning and one in the afternoon. Elate with this victory, he had accepted a challenge from the famous pudding eater at the Excise Office.
Northampton Mercury, 5 November 1785
Leeds Nov. 1 A few days ago one Mr Bull, a shoemaker, in Halifax, well known in the epicurean world, as well for the niceness of his taste as the keenness of his stomach, for a wager undertook to eat a nine pound goose, two penny oat cakes, and drink two quarts of ale, in the space of forty minutes. He performed this, to the astonishment of all present, in just thirty five and a half minutes, and afterwards spent the evening with the greatest cheerfulness, with those who were assembled to see this.
The Norfolk Chronicle, 28 November 1789 takes ‘eat all you can’ to a whole new level.
Francis Prigg, an underground collier, of Newton St. Loe, ate at a public house in the Bristol Road, a roasted shoulder of mutton weighing seven and half pounds, with half a peck of potatoes, half a pound of cheese, and four two-penny loaves, and drank six quarts of beer, all within the space of one hours. After which he murmured, because he had not (as he said) about four pounds of pudding with it.
The Dublin Evening Post, 14 July 1796 begins with the simple heading ‘Gluttony’. It then described
A disgraceful wretch who devoured 12 penny loaves stepped in six pints of ale, as a public house in Mosborough, near Sheffield, in about twenty-eight minutes, which it transpired was a whole two minutes under the time allowed for the challenge. In the afternoon he offered to perform the same worse than beastly exploit in half the time.
The report doesn’t tell us whether or not he did indeed repeat the exercise – hopefully not!
Next, we have a report in the Hampshire Chronicle, 7 January 1797
A man of Cuckfield, Lewes, a flax-dresser by profession, has undertaken, for a trifling wager, to eat a square foot of plumb pudding in a fortnight. A foot of plumb pudding contains no less than 1738 cubic inches, and will weigh, if properly baked, forty-two pounds. The man began on Thursday last.
I wondered whether or not he achieved this and found the answer in the newspaper of 21 January 1797.
The plumb pudding eater at Lewes, has lost his wager. On the eight day, the gormandizer’s jaws refused to stir any longer in the service, and he consequently declined all further perseverance in his task.
According to the Bury and Norwich Post, 18 September 1816 we another pudding eater.
The daily feats of pedestrianism we hear of, however astonishing, cannot be deemed more, or yet half so ridiculously extraordinary, as the following fact: A person, well known by the appellation of ‘The Russian,’ has undertaken, for a considerable wager, to eat 1,000 puddings in 1,000 successive hours, each pudding to weight half a pound. The time is not yet fixed when he is to commence his repast, but it is expected it will be in the neighbourhood of Carlisle.
As to whether any of these were accurate stories we may never know, but I do wonder whether any of these gentlemen felt the urge to diet after their over indulgence.
Today I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Paul Martinovich. After a career spent planning museum exhibits in North America and Ireland, Paul retired to pursue a longstanding interest in the Napoleonic Wars.
He first came across Selina Cordelia St Charles whilst researching for his forthcoming biography of Pulteney Malcolm: The Sea is my Element: the eventful life of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, in which you can find out more about the liaison between Malcolm and Selina, and the fate of their son. The biography of Malcolm is the result of several years research in archives in Britain and North America.
With that introduction I’ll now hand over to Paul to tell you more about the illusive Selina Cordelia St Charles:
In April of 1796, a 13-year-old girl boarded the East Indiaman William Pitt in Portsmouth harbour. An observer might have noted that she was well-dressed and well-spoken—these facts (along with her elegant name) would have suggested she was from a good family. But what were her origins, why was she going to India alone (except for her maid), what would become of her when she got there? These questions are not easy to answer, but the research has revealed a strange and unexpected life, and the interesting woman who lived it.
Selina was not famous and is not well-documented in the historical record. In fact, her origins are shrouded in mystery, and are the least-understood part of her life. She was almost certainly illegitimate, and born in 1782 or 1783. She was said to have been born in Quebec, and named ‘Selina Cordelia St Charles’, ‘facts’ which it has not been possible to verify, and may well be a red herring to conceal her true parentage. Her father was almost certainly one of a clan of prosperous traders and professional men named Birch, possibly William Henry Birch, an officer in the British Army. Her mother’s identity remains unknown.
The infant Selina was brought up by her Birch grandparents, William and Sally Birch, in Pinner just outside London. Sally Birch was born a Holwell, a family that, like the Birches, had long-standing trading connections with India. She was the daughter of John Zephaniah Holwell, survivor and publicist of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’. In this famous outrage nearly a hundred-and-fifty British civilians, captured by an Indian ruler, were crammed overnight into a space the size of a good-sized bedroom. The next morning most of them were dead, but Holwell was among the living. After the British recaptured Calcutta, in order to perpetuate the memory of his dead companions he had a monument erected on the site and wrote a widely read book on the incident.
Selina would have learned of these events, and of her family’s Indian links from her grandparents. They also provided her with a good education judging by her letters, which are well-composed and written in an elegant hand.
In 1796, possibly as a result of the death of her father, it was decided to send Selina to India, even though she was only about 13 years old. There she would live with her Birch uncles, prominent businessmen with the East India Company, and would be expected eventually to find a husband. The dispatching of children to live with relatives in distant countries was not unknown in Georgian times, and the annual traffic in young women travelling to India to seek a husband was so common that it came to be nicknamed ‘the fishing fleet’.
So when Selina boarded the Indiaman she must have felt she was about to begin a great adventure. Another passenger was Major John Shee, a British Army officer going out to join his regiment (the 33rd) in Bengal.
Their shipboard acquaintance led the astonishingly young Selina (she was still playing with dolls) to marry the 26-year-old Shee when the ship stopped at Cape Town. Even though marriages to 16 or even 15-year old girls were not unheard of in the Georgian period, it is difficult to understand how under any circumstances a child of 13 could be allowed to marry a man of 26. Probably, Shee got around the legal prohibition on those under 21 from marrying without parental consent by having the banns read in three successive Sundays at a church in Cape Town. Shee’s regiment stayed at the Cape for a couple of months before embarking for India. Selina (now Mrs Shee) seems to have proceeded to Calcutta on a different ship to her husband, under the protection of a Captain Henry Churchill, who was probably her uncle. Perhaps this was because it was felt that such a young girl should not be exposed to the sights and sounds on the troopship in which Shee travelled.
The couple reunited in India and the marriage seems to have been briefly happy as Selina lived with John Shee at Fort William in Calcutta. However in 1798, he sent her back to England on the Indiaman Hawke. Later Selina claimed that this move was for her health, and that she expected Shee to soon join her. Another explanation for sending Selina to England might be to remove her from being caught up in a war with Tipu Sultan, which was clearly imminent. Whatever the reason, Shee not only sent his teenage wife home without making any provision for her support while she was in England, but then also failed to communicate with her in any way for more than two years.
In England Selina lived with her grandparents in Pinner. Naturally she was very short of money, so she wrote a series of polite letters to her husband’s relatives (which included Sir George Shee, a rich nabob with an important government post) asking for support, while proclaiming her continued affection for her delinquent spouse. Selina’s efforts to convince herself that her husband was not the callous spouse that he seemed to be are captured in this extract from a letter she wrote to Jane Jackson, Shee’s sister.
It is the appearance of neglect from him who is dearer to me than life which has stung me to the heart; how then can I help tenderly loving her [Jane Jackson] who assures me of the truth of that which I have always believed? that cruel accident [letters having gone missing] and not neglect is the cause of all my anxieties. I have had every proof of the goodness and Generosity of Col. Shee’s heart, not only in his behavior to me while in India (which was all tenderness and affection), but from his general Character. Is it likely then that his Wife alone should have just reason to doubt the Excellency of his heart?
Selina seems to have received little or no assistance from the Shees, so when the financial situation of her Birch relatives became more difficult, she resolved to return to her husband in India. Where the money came from to pay for her passage is not clear.
John Shee had meanwhile risen to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd, which happened to be the regiment of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. There is ample evidence that Wellesley despised Shee, considering him an incompetent officer, and ‘a species of assassin’, who practiced with a pistol in order to be able to kill his opponents in duels more efficiently.
Selina reached India in July 1801 but did not stay long, since Shee (apparently because of Wellesley’s enmity) decided to return to England and sell his army commission. She accompanied her husband on this journey, but the marriage was now breaking down, and it seems likely that Shee was physically abusing his wife.
The couple was offered a passage from Cape Town to England by a naval captain named Pulteney Malcolm, who was returning in his ship of the line after some years in Indian waters. A number of other passengers and about a hundred troops were also crammed aboard the ship, which was in poor condition and urgently needed repairs.
During the passage, Malcolm and Selina became lovers, despite the proximity of her husband, who on discovering the liaison quitted the ship to complete his journey on another vessel. On reaching England Shee sued Malcolm for Criminal Conversation, essentially an action for ‘damages’ to his ‘property’ i.e. his wife’s reputation. During the trial it became apparent that Shee had beaten Selina, and while the jury found for the plaintiff, it clearly did not feel he deserved any sympathy in the situation.
As was customary in such cases, Selina did not testify in the trial. In fact she was now pregnant with Malcolm’s child, and gave birth to a son a few months later.
Somewhat conveniently, John Shee died (possibly due to alcohol, since he was a heavy drinker) in March 1804.
Three weeks later Selina married one James Martin Holwell, a haberdasher aged 21. This was no sudden infatuation—James Martin was her cousin, another descendant of John Zephaniah Holwell, and she had surely known him from her childhood in Pinner.
At this point, Selina’s life settles into a more typical path. The couple moved to Devon, where Selina had two children with James Martin. His haberdashery business did not prosper and he went bankrupt, but was rescued by Captain Malcolm, who got him a job with the Navy. In the post-war slump, the Holwell family emigrated to Canada, and settled in Montreal. It is not clear if by this move Selina was returning to her roots in the New World: this is just another aspect of the mystery of her eventful life. Selina Cordelia Holwell died in Montreal, still only 42, in 1825.
Should anyone happen to know something about Selina’s origins—where and when she was born and who her parents were Paul would be grateful to learn the details. Such an extraordinary woman deserves a full accounting of her life.
East Indiaman Pitt in two positions by Whitcombe (Christies)
We have now reached the final part of the story and just in case you missed any, the previous parts can be found by clicking these links – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In this final part we return again to George and his wife Mary. In 1817 and they went on to have a daughter, Julia in 1817, about whom nothing more is known, so it perhaps has to be assumed that she died in infancy, but two year later the couple had a second daughter, Felicia.
It appears though, that their marriage didn’t last very long, as Mary left England and went to Italy, taking Felicia with her. During this time Mary was said to have had an affair with the Marquis Busca, Visconti of Milan and a son was to follow from this liaison. In 1835 Mary died in suspicious circumstances, allegedly via poison, at which time the Marquis adopted the boy and raised him as his own. Upon the death of the Marquis the boy inherited the bulk of the estate.
After the death of his adopted father, the child was due to marry the Countessa Della Porta, but in 1851 this was still on hold until his father’s estate had been sorted and his claim verified.
Felicia, however, returned to England at some stage and lived briefly with her father, George, but this was short lived as their relationship was described as being a somewhat volatile one and in 1839 she married an Italian widower, Louis Philippe Baldersar Mazzara at St George, Hanover Square, after which they returned to Italy, where they had two sons, Felix Alexander, who we will return to later, and Nicholas Charles.
The final part of this story concerns, the end of George’s life. He all but disappeared from public view in England and it has been note that he travelled abroad for much of his later life, returning to England just prior to his death, at which time when he was living at 8 Victory Cottages, in Peckham, Surrey, but no-one seems to know how he was living or what he was doing. To date, there is no sign of him on ether the 1841 or 1851 census returns, so it’s feasible that he travelled abroad for quite some time or was simply missed from the census returns.
The property at which he died didn’t seem to exist on the 1851 census so it must have been a recent build when George lived there. George died on 29 February 1806, his death being witnessed by an Ann Chapman, who simply made her mark, so unable to write her name.
George was buried a few days later, at Kensal Green Cemetery and left a will in which his small remaining estate was bequeathed to his sister in law, Clara, nee Leech Leake.
Following George’s death Messrs. Puttick and Simpson, auctioneers sold some of his possessions including a Stradiuarious (now known as Stradivarius, the oldest were known by the former name) and an Amati, two of the finest and now rarest violins ever made.
So, who initially purchased these items, was George ever paid enough to purchase them himself, or were they courtesy of the Prince of Wales? Maybe the royal accounts could shed some light on this matter.
The complicated story of the family and its ancestors didn’t end at the end of George’s life, no, not at all.
The Newcastle Journal, 3 February 1868 noted that Frederick Joseph Bridgetower was making claims to the throne of Abyssinia. This Frederick Joseph was the grandson of George’s brother, Frederick, who was mentioned much earlier.
He claimed that he was descended on his father’s side from the original heir to this empire and that his great grandfather was an Abyssinian nobleman who had two sons born in England i.e. George and Frederick. He explained that his grandfather had married in 1808 and died in 1813, leaving a son and daughter, the former being the claimants’ son. The claimants’ father was born in 1812 and married Catherine Richardson in 1836 and died in 1859. He hoped to be recognised also as great nephew to the black prince, Sir George Bridgetower (of course, George was never knighted!).
He claimed that family misfortunes had deprived him the means of proving his antecedents until recently the claims of his second cousin, Felix Alexander, recognised as the descendant of King Solomon the son of David, had revealed the fact of his right in claiming the empire of his forefathers by paternity.
So, that was two claims to this throne being made by both sides of the family. This sounds very much like one of those stories that get passed down through the family, but one which is to this day completely unprovable.
The Liverpool Mercury of 2 May 1868 weighed in on the debate and suggested that if he believed he had a claim to such a throne then he had better go there and take it.
We are sure that the British Government will never be so foolish as to support his pretensions.
This claim of royal connections rumbled on for a few more years and the Isle of Wight Observer, 7 May 1870 had an interesting article:
Frederick Bridgetower appeared before the Southampton Bench, describing himself as ‘The Emperor of Abyssinia’. He was described as a printer of Simnel Street, Southampton, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in the High Street. On being placed in the dock and questioned as to his name and address, he said he was King Frederick Joseph and the rightful heir to the throne of Abyssinia. The previous evening the defendant was discovered making a great deal of noise and appeared to be going through a theatrical performance. He was very drunk and wearing a crown, making claims about the throne. He was found to be carrying a card, on which it was printed H.R.H Frederick Joseph S Bridgetower, Emperor of Ethiopia and Abyssinia. Mr Palk the magistrate, told him that he would be sentenced to prison for seven days and advised him not to drink once freed.
How much truth there has been in this we may never know, but some of it seems highly unlikely and something of a very tall tale, passed down through the generations with much credibility by all who were told of the story.
What happened to Joseph Frederick after these claims, well there was one final sighting of him, leaving England and heading to America, what became of him from there, maybe someone will be able to shed some light on what became of him.
Another of Joseph’s siblings, John Henry spent much of his life in the lunatic asylum from the age of fifteen until his death at the age of forty-six and one of their siblings, Catherine, named after her mother, died aged about one, following an accident caused by her sitting down on a smoothing iron and burning to death, the inquest partially blamed her mother for neglecting the child.
Given the number of descendants, it would seem highly likely that George and Frederick’s ancestors are still out there somewhere.
We begin the third part of George’s life in March 1794, but just in case you missed the earlier parts, click on the highlighted links to read part 1 and part two .
George had been busy studying and performing at the New Theatre Royal, still under the pupillage of Barthélemon. Over the subsequent weeks his name regularly appeared in the press, still working at the same theatre.
From the quarter ending October 1795 until 1809 George’s name appeared on the Royal Household payroll as a musician, along with a Mrs Bridgetower, could this possibly have been his mother, reputed to be Mary Ann nee Schmid, whose name appeared between 1802 and 1809, as a recipient of an annuity of seven pounds, ten shillings?
On 19 October 1796 Lloyd’s Evening Post confirmed that George was still employed by the royal family, by this time, George was about sixteen and continued to be mentioned regularly by the press until the end of the century.
The Princess of Wales has music three or four times a week; last night the party consisted of Mazzinghi, Atwood, Cole Bridgetower (the black boy) who generally plays concertos on the violin, and Schram. Her Royal Highness also plays on the pianoforte and sings with Lady Willoughby.
In 1802 George was granted leave to visit his mother and an unnamed brother, a cellist in Dresden. We know from earlier that there was a possible brother for George, Johannes, but could the cellist have been another sibling? We will find out later.
It was whilst in Dresden that young George gave at least two concerts and having gained success with these, he went on to Vienna. It was whilst there that he was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven who wrote for him Sonata No 9 in A Major Opus 47, which was originally named ‘Sonata Mulattica’, but was quickly renamed following an argument between Beethoven and Bridgetower over a woman becoming now known as ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Despite the renaming, the Rodolphe Kreutzer never actually played the sonata.
Towards the end of May 1805, according to the British Press, George advertised a forthcoming concert at the New Rooms, under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, where he would play the violin and his brother Frederick, the violincello, on 23 May. Tickets being sold at half a guinea each could be obtained from his lodgings at 4 Great Ryder Street, St James, London.
Rates returns for that period show that the property was owned by a Richard Davies, but there are no clues as to who he was, but it was clearly a property in an affluent area, as his next-door neighbour was The Honourable Mrs Keppel.
Was this the mysterious brother, Frederick, who had travelled with him back to England? It would certainly appear to be and so, we will look at what became of him later, but he was certainly in England with George by 1805 if not before.
In September 1805, George’s father made a re-appearance in the newspaper, things were clearly not going well for him. This time he was in Exeter, alongside a woman who had been found to be an imposter. The article went on to describe the imposter as:
Rev. John Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, otherwise Lieutenant General Mentor, lately serving under Touissaint L’Ouverture, otherwise the Black Prince. This person speaks fluently English, French, German, Italian and Polish languages.
Therefore, it would appear that George’s father was no longer in an asylum, but had instead, headed south for reasons unknown.
The last public sighting of George for some time was in the Morning Post, 30 March 1808, still performing at Hanover Square. He then vanished for a while once his payments from the Prince of Wales ceased in 1809, but where did he go? It is known that he attended Cambridge University, where he continued learning his craft and began composing music. From the National Register, 30 June 1811 we learn that:
His Royal Highness will attend at St Mary’s in the afternoon, when the sermon will be preached by the Rev Dr. Butler’ after which a musical exercise will be performed, composed by Mr Bridgetower, as an exercise for his Bachelor’s degree.
It is now known that his brother, Frederick had moved to Ireland, presumably from London, as that was stated at the time of his marriage in January 1808 to Elizabeth Guy, the daughter of John Guy.
Frederick continued to perform as a cellist and to develop his skills as a composer  and on 13 April 1808 made his debut performance in Dublin, as a cellist, at the Rotunda on Upper O’Connell Street in the city.
Not only was Frederick a performer, but he was also a composer and teacher.
According to The Hibernia Magazine and Dublin Monthly Panorama volume 3, 1811, Frederick performed some ‘charming instrumental music’ for the Beefsteak Club, at Morrison’s Hotel on Dawson Street.
It was around that time that Frederick composed ‘Six Pathetic Cantonets’ which were dedicated to the Italian Opera singer, Madame Catalani. Copies of his works, ‘A Pastoral Rondo for the pianoforte’, dedicated to a Miss Martha Collins, ‘Six Chromatic Waltzes’ and Multum in parvo’ are held by the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
Life however was not kind to Frederick and his wife as around the time of the birth of their one son, Frederick Joseph, Frederick senior died on 18 August 1813, leaving Elizabeth alone to raise her child. We know that Elizabeth and her son remained in Ireland as Frederick junior was to find himself in trouble with the law in 1833.
According to The Pilot, 12 April 1833 young Frederick found himself involved in the Newry riots, between Catholics and Protestants, also known as Orange Men, during which he fired a pistol which resulted in him being sentenced to sixteen months in prison with hard labour.
After serving his sentence he left Ireland for Liverpool, where in 1836 he married a Catherine Richardson and they had eight known children. Frederick’s career was somewhat confusing as he was noted as a journeyman shoemaker, so didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, however, on the marriage entry for one his daughters (Jane Guy), he was described as a professor of music, so quite which occupation he followed we may never know.
Frederick and Catherine’s eldest son, a Frederick Joseph, named after his father, born in 1840, we will return to later as his story is very relevant to George’s history.
We can only assume that Eliza remained in Ireland as her name appeared in the newspaper in the Newry Telegraph in 1849 when she developed cholera, whether she died from that remains unclear at present.
Returning back again to George, and in March 1816, at St George, Hanover Square he married Mary Leach Leake, the daughter of Edward Leech (rather than Leach) an affluent businessman (a cotton manufacturer according to his will) late of Kensington Square, London and a Mary Leake.
In the Times, 23 October 1832 there was a report of the death in 1807 of a woman who appears to have been George’s mother, so if that were the case, then money was being paid by the privy purse for some considerable time after her death:
Notice to Heirs and others – All persons who have any claim on or to Property, amounting to about 800 Saxon Dollars, left by the late Mary Ann Bridgetower, who died at Budissen on the 11th of September, 1807, are hereby directed to make known and prove the same by themselves, or their attornies, at the sittings of the magistrates of the said town, on or before the 12th of March, 1833, or they will forfeit all right and title to the said property – Dated at Budissen, in the kingdom of Saxony, 8th August, 1832. By order of the Sitting Magistrates.
At the time George married in 1816 a newspaper report came to light from the other side of the world, which raises some interesting questions about who exactly George’s father was.
This was a gentleman who went by the name of Augustus de Bundo who, on the face of it led an amazing life, but how much of his life story reported in the Royal Gazette, Jamaica, 26 October 1816 was true will forever remain questionable.
This elderly black man presented a petition before the Corporate Body of Jamaica requesting poor relief. In order to obtain this, he had to provide details of how he had come to find himself in such dire straits and with that, he set about providing them with a lengthy account of his ancestry, education and travel. He gave his full name as
Augustus Frederick Horatio, Prince de Bundo and stated that his mother was a Cherokee Indian Princess and his father was Almas Ali Achmet, a Turkish merchant, formerly of Mahometan and that his parents married in London.
He also claimed that his grandfather was the high priest of Bundo, Africa and it was through him that he claimed his title of Prince de Bundo. There appears no such place as Bundo, but there is a Bundu, so it is feasible that was where he meant.
He stated that he was born at Staines, Surrey and that at the age of seven was sent to Eton to be educated, where he remained until the age of sixteen; from there he travelled to Besançon, France where he studied for five years at the College of St Paul. Then went to Strasbourg where he entered St Bartholomew’s College to study theology, then on to Gottingen, Hanover.
In 1776/7 aged thirty-three, he returned to England, attended Oxford College, for four years, entered the university, and after a residence of sixteen months, took a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following this he was
Ordained a priest of the Church of England by the Bishop of Derry, who also promoted him to be a Deacon, that being a higher order in the church. He was then appointed as a Minister of a church in Pyrmont, Hanover and officiated there for four years until he was driven out by the French under General Junot in 1800. He travelled all over the continent and was well received at different courts.
Having carefully checked every fact in his account, the conclusion would have to be that, as fascinating a story as it is, it has more holes in it than a colander. His name does not appear in the registers of Eton, nor at Oxford, nor in the Church of England records, but that of course depends upon what name he would have been known by. Also, I can find no such college as St Paul, nor St Bartholomew’s. If he were ordained into the Church of England it would have been by Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, also titled Bishop of Derry.
His notion of being promoted to deacon could not be correct, as deacon was a lower position than a vicar/priest. It isn’t possible to provide any validity into his claim about General Jean-Andoche Junot, but date wise it doesn’t appear to make sense.
It does, however, appear that whoever he was, he was either someone who was extremely well-read or very well-travelled or both.
Now, here is the only part of his story which has some elements of familiarity, although again, it doesn’t quite add up. His testament continues –
He married a Polish Princess, the daughter of Prince Morowski and receive a dowry with her, in money, lands, castles etc which he enjoyed until the troubles in that country which obliged him to quit Poland. It was at Pyrmont where he first saw his wife, she went to a nunnery there for her education. After leaving Poland he returned to England and was well received by the Prince Regent, with whom he was on the most intimate and friendly footing, having received from him a general invitation to visit at all times, of which he availed himself, particularly at Brighton. The prince introduced him to the Queen and the rest of the Royal family, who were all kind and attentive to him.
In his testament he asserted that the Prince Regent had stood godfather for his son, who was the leader of the Princes private Chamber Music, his other son was also in royal service and that
The Prince Regent also asked that he be introduced at the British Court in the costume of a Mahometan on horseback.
This reference to him having a least two sons is extremely interesting and their connection with the Prince Regent, begins to make sense in terms of George and Frederick, in all likelihood is one of the few verifiable parts of his testament. How could this man have known the prince or have known about George and his brother?
He said that he frequently attended court balls, however, being a clergyman, he never danced. He was intimately acquainted with, and dined with, William Wilberforce.
He had a brig built, called The Isabella, which he jointly owned with his mother, which he registered at Lloyd’s, (having trawled through the Lloyd’s register from 1800 – 1815 there is no obvious sign of such a ship). He claimed to have loaded The Isabella, sailed to Barbados where he sold the cargo and took on another of sugar and rum for Cape Henry on the coast of Virginia.
Disaster befell him on 25 June 1816, when the ship was wrecked, and he lost everything. The crew were dispersed, and he went to Havana, from where he obtained passage in his Majesty’s ship The Tay. The Tay was being captained from 24 January 1816, by a Captain Samuel Roberts who sail from Portsmouth to Havana then on to Jamaica, having apparently taken on board Augustus at Havana. Augustus made specific reference to Captain Roberts in his testament, saying that the captain would testify to the accuracy of his claim. So, it seems feasible that perhaps one or two elements of his account may have had a grain of truth in them.
He also stated that his mother, who was nearly 80 years old was living in Antigua along with her sister, and that she had many possessions which she inherited from her ancestors and that he had some £12,000 in funds, he believed, in the Stock Exchange and his wife, a Polish princess lived in Staines, at a farm that they owned.
However, the following day, he was called back for a further interview, and clearly overnight he must have realised that his story sounded too far-fetched and so provided a much shorter revised account. He no longer made claims about being a Prince, but instead, said he was a Knight of the Thimble i.e. a tailor.
According to this revised testament, Augustus said that he was a native of Barbados, where he was born a slave, but being very intelligent he was sent to England as a servant to one of his master’s sons, where he learnt to read and write. His young master completed his own studies and was to return to Barbados, along with his servant, but Augustus had other ideas, decamped and passed himself off as a free man.
Now this does have more credibility, especially in light of a woman who lived in Barbados by the name of Rachel. Now, bear with this apparent digression from the story, but it may have some relevance.
She was born about the same time as Augustus and was the daughter of a William Lauder and a slave woman. She developed a friendship with a Thomas Pringle and changed her surname to his. Rachel opened an hotel in Bridgetown, where she provided entertainment for sailors and royalty after a long sea voyage. When her relationship with Pringle finished, she met a man called Mr Polgreen and took his name too becoming known as Rachel Pringle Polgreen. There was a plantation in Barbados connected to the Polgreen family, so that may have been who she had a relationship with.
Rachel died in 1791 leaving some considerable assets. Now, could there have been some connection between Rachel’s gentleman Mr Polgreen and George’s family, hence George taking that as a middle name, combined with a reputed family connection with Barbados? This may well remain pure speculation of course.
Returning to Augustus, this is the only documented part of his life story so far, but as you can imagine, the authorities were less than impressed and believed it to be pure fantasy. With that, he was dismissed with a caution to behave himself and in reply he said he would find the first opportunity to leave the country.
The testament took place in October 1816, and just four months later, an application was made to the court by Augustus, still sticking to his story that he was of princely origin, only this time he was requesting that the court procure for him a passage to England.
This was eventually agreed to and they gave him ten pounds to purchase provisions and a few days later he was sent packing on board the Queen transport ship, bound for Portsmouth. It would appear that the authorities were pleased to finally see the back of him and happy to send him on his way back to his alleged home – England.
Augustus returned to England and what became of him from then is still unknown. The only vague sighting of him was an entry in the Poor Records for St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1817. The entry simply references a man, named Frederick Bridgetower, aged 63 i.e. born c1754, seeking poor relief, which would make this gentleman about the right sort of age and given the unusual surname it does sound feasible that he did return to England, but penniless.
Could Augustus have been George’s father? We will probably never know, but if so, then it adds another dimension to his life. Do join me next week for the end of this tale.
Today we continue with the story of George’s life, but if you missed last weeks and would like to catch up, just click on this highlighted link.
We begin this part of George’s life with the assistant keeper of Queen Charlotte’s wardrobe was a Mrs Papendeik, who very helpfully kept a journal and clearly knew of George and his family and in her journal made the following notes of their meetings 
About this time an adventurer of the name of Bridgetower, a black, came to Windsor, with a view of introducing his son, a most prepossessing lad of ten or twelve years old, and a fine violin player. He was commanded by their Majesties to perform at the Lodge, when he played a concerto of Viotti’s and a quartet of Haydn’s, whose pupil he called himself.
Both father and son pleased greatly. The one for his talent and modest bearing, the other for his fascinating manner, elegance, expertness in all languages, beauty of person, and taste in dress. He seemed to win the good opinion of everyone and was courted by all and entreated to join in society; but he held back with the intention of giving a benefit concert at the Town Hall.
Mr. Jervois insisted upon the Bridgetowers coming to him after the boy had played at the Lodge, as he wished to hear him before he took tickets or interested himself in the business. Charles Griesbach and Neebour had promised to come to assist in the performance, but there was to be no audience beyond the regular set or squad — Papendieks, Stowes and Mingays. After supper, the music-room was ready, and then the father would not let his son play!
Also present at the gathering was the artist, Johan Zoffany who had recently returned from India. In her journal she continued to provide additional snippets of information about the Bridgetower’s, curiously naming George’s father as Ralph West Bridgetower, which is not a name that appears to have been noted anywhere else, was this another pseudonym or more likely a simple mistake on her part?
While I was playing the duet with Rodgers, he sat on the ground between us, after which that dear little soul kissed us and went off to bed. The duet, which we played without a fault, pleased greatly, and was followed by more singing, and Bridge tower’s two quartets and a symphony to finish made a long second act. Then we again had refreshments, and supper in the parlour for the performers. Over this meal we had a pleasant chat. Ralph West Bridgetower (as he was named) was most fascinating, young Lawrence elegant and handsome, and very attentive… Twenty- five guineas Mr. Papendiek put into Bridgetower’s hand, taking nothing from Mr. Jervois as he compelled him to come. The ladies being gone I went to bed, after making arrangements for Zoffany, but the gentlemen made a merry evening of it.
Abbott, Lemuel Francis; Sir William Herschel; National Portrait Gallery, London;
This circumstance occurred in the spring of this year, 1789. Madame de Lafitte educated the daughters, and many lent a helping hand. Indeed, through life did this family experience the same kind friendship on all sides. I now went to town for a few days to see my mother and brother, and finding that the Herschels were also going to London, I took a seat in the afternoon post coach, contrary to my usual custom of travelling in the morning, in order to accompany them. William HerschelI was much surprised, when taken up, to find Bridgetower in the coach. He said he was going to engage lodgings, preparatory to their settling in town for the winter. I knew the Herschels would not like being in his company, but it was a public coach, and nothing could be done, so we proceeded all together. At the White Horse Cellar, I urged the Herschels to take a hackney coach and see me safe to my mother’s; but no, they went on by the same conveyance to Paternoster Row, and I proceeded alone to St. James’s. In the dark passages in the Palace, that black, Bridgetower, suddenly presented himself, under the desire of being introduced to my father and mother. I told him that my parents from age and ailments did not allow these freedoms to their children, and I entreated him not to trouble me, as the door on the staircase where we stood led to the public apartments of the Palace, and, as I was generally known, I should not like to be so seen. He then said he wanted to borrow a little money. I took my purse out quickly and gave him all I had, a guinea and a half, and begged he would not attempt to call, as he would not be admitted. I watched him safely away, and then ran quickly to my home. I dared not tell my father, as he was angry enough about our exertions at the concert, observing that he knew from experience that no foreigner who asks anything from one, ever returns one’s aid either in gratitude or kind. … On my return, Bridgetower called, having previously sent the money, so he was straightforward enough in this instance, but I told him in Mr. Papendeik’s presence never again to ask us to lend money, for we had already done what we could. I added that he must not conclude that the whole of the 25/. put into his hands after the concert had been received for tickets. He, of course, was not over well pleased with this speech, but I began, as did many others, not to be altogether satisfied with his conduct. He shortly went to London with his son, and obtained an introduction to the Prince of Wales, who took a particular liking to the lad, and admired the father for his general elegance.
The Morning Post of 25 November 1789, under the heading ‘Bath’ reported that,
Amongst those added to the Sunday promenade was the African Prince in Turkish Attire. The son of this African Prince has been celebrated as a very accomplished musician.
The local newspapers in Bath were constantly singing the praises of both father and son. Before and after the performance George’s father strolled along the promenade with George dressed in Turkish attire, attracting a great deal of attention.
The Morning Post of December 8, 1789 noted:
The young African prince, whose musical talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Saturday morning than has ever been known in this place. There were upwards of five hundred and fifty persons, and they were gratified by such skill on the violin as created general astonishment, as well as pleasure. Rauzzini was enraptured and declared that he had never heard such execution before, even from his friend, La Motte, who was, he thought, much inferior to the wonderful boy. The father was in the gallery, and so affected by the applause bestowed on his son, that tears of pleasure and gratitude flowed in profusion. The profits were estimated at two hundred guineas, many persons having given five guineas for each ticket.
A further insight into George’s father was provided by The Derby Mercury 10 December 1789, but with no mention being made of his mother, was she with them? It would later appear that George was only accompanied by his father.
The father is quite black, about the age of 35, tall, well made and remarkably agile. The son is of a mixed colour, his mother being a European, and one of the Polish nobility. They both speak most of the modern languages (particularly English) very fluently.
Just two days later, the Morning Post 12 December 1789, noted George’s performance.
The favourite concertante of Pleyel, a concerto on the bassoon by Holmes, another on the pianoforte, by Mrs Miles (Late Miss Guest) and one on the violin by Master Bridgetower, the little mulatto, who is not eleven years old, and yet a wonderful performer, were the instrumental excellences.
One of the most famous black musicians at the time was the Chevalier de Saint Georges, who, it appears was a good friend to the family.
The accomplished negro and his boy Bridgetower was born in Jamaica, and generously emancipated by his owner, on the score of wonderful talents. He has since visited Russia, Italy, Germany and France. It was his good fortune at Paris to acquire the friendship of the Chevalier St. George. He married a Polish lady of quality, from whom this miraculous child descended. The boy has been tutored by Haydn, the consequence is eminently honourable to the musician and his disciple.
According to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (17 Dec 1789), George remained in Bath and on Christmas Eve entertained an audience with a violin concerto between the first and second Acts of Handel’s Messiah, at The Assembly Rooms.
The Oxford Journal 16 January 1790, excitedly reported that Oxford
Would have the pleasure of informing the public in general, and the cognoscenti in particular, they are likely soon to be gratified by hearing the wonderful abilities of Master Bridgetower on the violin, he being daily expected in this city.
It was rapidly becoming apparent from the media though, that George’s father was becoming more of a hindrance than a help in progressing his son’s career. Was he simply a ‘pushy father’ or was there something more concerning about his behaviour? That will become clear later.
Miss Cantelo’s benefit concert at Bath was not equal to her friends’ expectations, notwithstanding Harrison and young Bridgetower both exhibited.
The Black Prince, father of the violinist, by being too officious, has lost the countenance of most of his benefactors, as his concert showed last Saturday morning at the Lower Rooms, – not fifty attended.
However, on 12 February 1790, The Public Advertiser announced that the following week, George would make his first performance in London at Drury Lane, when he was again to play a concerto between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.
The day after the event, Woodfall’s Register, and The Public Advertiser provided their reviews of his performance and once again, this raises questions about George’s age, as in an earlier account he was said to be nearly eleven, this time, not yet ten!
Master Bridgetower, son of the African Prince, is a phaenomenon in the musical world. After the second part of the oratorio, he performed a concerto on the violin, which though not ten years of age, he executed with a degree of delicacy and skill that would have done credit to any professional man of the most established reputation.
By this time, George’s father was beginning to create major problems and appeared to be somewhat unstable, and there was an outburst in March 1790, which was alluded to in The Times, 15 March:
The Black Prince would do well, before he dare to disturb the peace of the English audiences – to study the old ballad – of “There’s a difference I sing, “Twix a Beggar and a King.”
Yet another snippet from Mrs Papendeik’s journal also appears to support this:
During this time, we were again annoyed by a visit from Bridgetower. He, one morning, going as he said to Salt Hill or somewhere in the neighbourhood, left his son with us, who took the opportunity to disclose to us his unhappy situation. He said that his mother was left in distress, and that the money he could earn by his music was wasted in crime even in his presence, and added that the brutal severity of his father must soon lead him to some desperate act. Mr. Papendiek could only pity and persuade the poor lad to be careful not to provoke or aggravate this man, now found out in his wickedness. When he returned, we had luncheon, and then they went off to London.
We heard in a short time that the son had taken refuge at Carlton House, and that the father had returned to Germany. Mr. Papendiek called to inquire into the business, when the Prince of Wales told him that one evening Bridgetower, having returned home with a companion, had desired his son to get under the sofa and to go to sleep. The first part of the command he obeyed, and, watching his opportunity, made his escape. He ran to Carlton House, where from having often been there to perform, he was well known and on supplicating protection, he was taken care of till the morning when the circumstance was related to the Prince.
His Royal Highness at once sent for the father and desired him to leave the kingdom immediately, saying that he would furnish him with a proper sum of money for the journey, and that hearing of his return to his wife and family, he would remit a trifle for present emergencies that he might have the opportunity of looking out for employment of a more honourable nature than he had pursued in this country. If he made arrangements for his immediate departure, the Prince said he would permit him to call for the money and to take leave of his son whom he and treated so cruelly. The prince from that time took the lad entirely under his protection and treated him from first to last with the utmost kindness.”
So, that was that, George’s father had disgraced himself in royal circles with his behaviour and treatment of his son and it appears that within a week, according to the Derby Mercury 8 April 1790, matters came to a head, with George’s father being placed in a lunatic asylum:
The father of the young performer on the violin, who styles himself the African Prince, is at present a resident in a receptacle for lunatics. The Prince of Wales, with his wonted goodness has humanely taken his son under his royal protection.
Just a few weeks later George was performing alongside another violinist, an Austrian, Franz Clement and performing at Hanover Square, under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales
For the benefit of Master Bridgetower, and Master Clement on Wednesday 2 June 1790, will be performed, a concert of vocal and instrumental music. The place of the performance will be advertised in a few days.
On 26 May 1790, tickets for the concert were available from either, 9 Piccadilly where Clement resided or 20 Eaton Street, where George lived.
It becomes clear from the rates returns for Eaton Street, that George was by this time in fact residing at the home of Thomas and Mary Attwood, with George’s name later appearing in A Musical Directory for 1794, showing that he remained with the Attwood family for a number of years.
So successful was George, that the Prince Regent took even more interest in the young man and appointed tutors for him, the likes of the French violinist, François Hippolyte Barthélemon, the leader of the Royal Opera, and Thomas Attwood who became the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, composer of the Chapel Royal and musical instructor to the Duchess of York, and then the Princess of Wales, so it is clear that George, despite still being a child, was mixing at the highest level of British society.
George was certainly now gainfully employed as a musician as in February 1792 he performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, according to the Public Advertiser. Then on 28 May he featured at Mr Barthélemon’s Concert at Hanover Square and later that year The Morning Post, confirmed that he played at The London Tavern, in a benefit concert, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
Over the next few weeks we are having a slight change to the usual weekly format in so much as I’m going to take a fairly detailed look at one person in particular and tell you a little about his life story and that of his family, so please do tune in each week for the next part of the story, be warned, we’re in for a long, complicated and very bumpy ride.
George’s early years
‘Genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin’ a quote from the Chester Chronicle, 1789 used when describing a certain child protégé. Who was this child, apart from being someone who was extremely talented?
The answer appears to be someone with a very complicated and confusing ancestry, which, over the centuries no-one has actually been able to completely fathom out. Despite the advances in technological access to archival material, which has given access to more nuggets of information, the same degree of uncertainty about some parts of his life remain today, even his surname seems to confuse, it was either Bridgetower, with the ‘e’ or Bridgtower without. The majority of people who have written about George favour the former, so I’ll go with that for now.
Over the next few weeks, I shall recount some of his life story, and, for a guess, by the end of it you will remain as stumped by it as I am about his genealogy.
For those who haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you to George Augustus Polgreen/Polegreen Bridgetower who was believed to have been born on 11 October 1778 in Biala, Poland according to an article in The Musical Times of 1981, although different sources offer different dates of birth for him, but this appears to be the most likely, as it on George’s application to join the Royal Society of Musicians.
The other date offered being 13 August 1778 and that he was baptised as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus. His father being Joanis Fredericus de Augustus and his mother being Maria Ursula de Augustus (née Schmid/Schmit/Sovinki) or possibly Mary Ann.
As you can imagine trying to track down a copy of George’s birth has proved elusive, to say the least.
The only nugget of information I have come across which might make sense of that entry, was the one below possibly for possibly son, Johannes Albertus Bridgetown, not Bridgetower, in Mainz, Germany some nine years after George was born, but of course this could be a red herring and to date there is no evidence of this child surviving to adulthood and his name is never mentioned in any biography about George.
The surname used by the family is unusual, which perhaps does indicate that Johannes was one of their children, but whether this child survived into adulthood, who knows. Hopefully one day it will be possible to see George’s baptism, just to set the record straight once and for all.
Just to confuse matters further, George’s father seems to have been referred to as either John Frederick Bridgetower or Friedrich de Bridgetower and worked in the household as a servant of Prince Nikolai Esterházy, where he gave several different stories about his origins (a favourite being that he was an African prince), but again there is no conclusive evidence.
The castle of Prince Nikolai contained an opera house and a puppet theatre where the composer Haydn was the Kapellmeister (musical director). If George had been spotted as a child prodigy, Haydn would have been the perfect person to help him develop his talent.
Sometime before 1789 the family left the court of Prince Nikolai and, according to The World newspaper of 2 January 1789, George made his performing debut as a violinist:
A young negro, named George Frederick Augustus Brigdetower, has made his entrée into the world as a musician. He played at a public concert on the 2d instant at Cleves, with very great applause, and promised to be one of the first players in Europe. His natural genius was first cultivated by the celebrated Hayden, and afterwards by the Sieur Schick He speaks many languages and appears distinguishingly from others of his cast and colour.
In April of that year in Paris, according to an article on the British Museum website, by Dr Mike Phillips,
The journal Le Mercure de France raved about his performance, concluding that “his talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and his colour of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts”.
George was obviously an exceptionally gifted young musician and his father, a great public relations machine for his son, trying to get his talent showcased at all the best venues – Paris, London and Bath, places that would have been popular with the elite.
In a plan to drum up interest in George, his father was telling all the right people that his son was the ‘son of the African Prince’ and, to ensure that the message got across loud and clear, he would wear exotic costumes and parade through the streets. His father was certainly no shrinking violet.
This report was noted in many of the regional newspapers of the day, from the Kentish Gazette, to Saunders Newsletter in Dublin to the Stamford Mercury. It appears that the whole country was taking an interest in this very talented young man and the Whitehall Evening Post decided to share a little background to the family.
The African Prince now at Brighthelmstone has a son of ten years old, possessed of amazing talents.
This extraordinary genius has been presented to the Prince of Wales, who intends to recommend him to the professional concert, as an acceptable novelty to the admirers and lovers of music. He plays with exquisite Mastership on the violin.
The grandfather of this extraordinary youth was committed to the care of a Dutch captain with diamonds to a great amount, and gold dust to be carried to Europe and educated.
After experiencing much barbarous treatment from the avaricious Hollander, the unfortunate prince was sold, as a slave, to a Jamaican planter.
The unhappy man met, however with a kind master to alleviate his misfortunes, and married an African woman, by whom he had the father of this boy.
At the grandfather’s demise, the father was still high in his master’s favour, at whose expense he was instructed in several languages. At the age of fifteen, he was permitted to make a voyage to Africa, with proper testimonials of his birth; but by a singular fatality was shipwrecked and lost his documents. Being conversant in several languages, he gained a subsistence by acting as interpreter to various foreign Potentates in Europe.
By 14 August 1789, it was the Chester Chronicle who were writing about George in the most glowing terms
The musical world is likely to be enriched by the greatest phenomenon ever heard – a youth of ten years old, pupil of the immortal Haydn – he performs the most difficult pieces on the violin, and goes through all the mazes of sound with wonderful spirit, execution and delicacy. His name is Bridgetower a sable plant of an African growth: Thus, do we find that genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin. He is now at Brighthelmstone, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
So, it would appear that young George’s career was definitely on the up and had come to the attention of the royal family as noted in The Morning Star, 3 October 1789 –
On Friday evening the son of the African Prince performed on the violin with exquisite skill, before their majesties and the princesses at Windsor Lodge. This musical phenomenon gave inexpressible delight to his royal auditory. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales was his recommendatory introducer to the access of his royal parents.
In the 18th and 19th centuries people were fascinated with people who were different in some way to the ‘average person’ and people such as the Sussex Giantess were bought by often unscrupulous people, to be on show for the paying public. So let’s find out a little more about Jane Cobden and her family.
William Cobden and Millicent Amber were married in 1798 and together they had eleven children, five boys and six girls, including their famous second son, Richard Cobden, who was noted in history as being a politician.
Their children were – Frederick (1799); Emma (1800-1836); Millicent (1802); Richard (1804-1865); Jane (1806); Charles (1808); Priscilla (1809); Miles (1812); Henry Andrews(1813-1858); Mary (1815); and their youngest, Sarah (1817).
Richard was probably best known for his association with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-corn law league, and the Cobden Chevalier Treaty, which promoted closer interdependence between Britain and France. He was so well respected that he even has a memorial bust in the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey.
To give you a little background into the family, they were a long-standing Sussex family who could trace their ancestors back to the fourteenth century. They lived in the hamlet of Heyshott, near Chichester, Sussex in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford.
They were not a wealthy family and Richard’s father was described by Richard’s biographer, John Morley as
a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not the force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him.
Millicent, however, appears to have been the stronger character, described as being
endowed with native sense, shrewdness and force of mind.
She would have to have been a strong character, given the number of children she had to raise. It must have been difficult trying to raise such a large family with limited income, always trying to find ways to make ends meet. In 1809, the family had to be sold and the family moved to a smaller farm, Gilder’s Oak.
By 1813, the family hit hard time and had to move again, finally settling in West Meon, Hampshire.
By this time their third daughter, Jane was only seven years old, but was there anything unusual about Jane at that time? We will never know. The first sighting of a Jane Cobden was not until 1824, when her name appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle where she was described appearing as part of a travelling show of ‘curiosities’ at Mr Hubbard’s’ Great Room, Kings Head, upper side of the market. Sadly, the advert carries no further information as to quite where Mr Hubbard’s Great Room was, given that the notice appeared in a local newspaper, possibly Norfolk.
Jane was described as being
Only 18 years of age, stands near seven feet high. This young lady is allowed by all ranks of people, to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever exhibitedto be British public.
She was appearing alongside Mr Thomson, the Scottish Giant, who stood at over seven feet tall and Mr Robertson who stood a mere twenty-six inches tall. Admittance being one shilling for ladies and gentlemen and just six pence for servants.
In July 1825, Jane’s mother, Millicent Cobden died at the age of 50, did Jane know as she was busy travelling around the country?
It was the festival at York in December 1825, that provided just one more clue as to her identity when it specified that she was a native of Chichester and that:
This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.
The final sighting of Jane was in the Evening Mail, 9 June 1826, when she appeared at Ascot Races, accompanied by a ‘dwarf from the Low Countries’, a ‘Bohemian who balanced coach wheels on his chin’, a black sleight of hand player, several dogs and a lady who ‘took money’, all dwelling in a covered cart not twelve feet square, and all to be seen for just one penny.
Jane simply vanished after this, but it is reputed that she died in Hertfordshire in 1830, making her just 24 years of age. Whilst I cannot be absolutely certain that this young lady was the sister of Richard, she was the only Jane Cobden, born in Sussex whose year of birth matches or even comes close and there seems nothing to suggest that it wasn’t her – perhaps someone out there might be able to confirm one way or the other.
I have now found a burial for Jane and the ages ties in nicely with it being Richard’s sister. She was buried at Chipping Barnet 31st May 1830, aged 24 years.
The life of Richard Cobden by Morley, John, 1838-1923
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 wouldn’t 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’s 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.
I first became acquainted with this gentleman when a good friend on social media messaged me with ‘I think this story needs you‘. Say no more, I was off down that rabbit hole. What a fabulous painting by John Dempsey of an early 19th-century gentleman from Norwich, but with no name apart from ‘Black Charley’ and nothing more known about him.
Black Charley, Norwich, 1823
The newspapers and parish registers came to the rescue in identifying this very dapper-looking man in his very smart clothing, who appears to have made and sold fashionable boots and shoes from a shop in Norwich, but perhaps looks can be a little deceptive.
The National Portrait Gallery of Australia (to whom the portrait was on loan to from Tasmanian Museum and Gallery), suggests that the gentleman may have been a child brought to England by Capt. (later Rear-Admiral) Frederick Paul Irby who had him baptised in 1813, as Charles Fortunatus Freeman, along with two other children and whilst this is feasible the dates don’t seem to tie up as you will soon find out.
Firstly, let’s give him the name by which he was known – may I introduce to you Mr Charles Willis Yearly of Norwich.
As yet nothing is known about where he was born, whether here in the UK or overseas, but from his burial, we now know that he was born around 1785 which arguably means that he was not the child baptised in 1813, as this would have made him around 28 at the time, so not a child. I still have no idea where the middle name ‘Willis’ came from.
On St Valentine’s Day 1820, Charles married Diana Norman of rural Stradbrooke, Suffolk, at the parish church of St Michael at Thorn, Norwich.
Despite his very dapper appearance, neither he nor Diana was able to sign the register and instead simply made their mark with an X, which leads me to think that perhaps these were more than likely second-hand clothes. The witnesses being Elisha Briggs, a farmer and landlord of The Two Necked Swan, Norwich and William H Houghton., who appears to be the second witness to all marriages around that date.
It was at the end of 1822, at the parish church of St Andrew’s, Norwich that the couple proudly presented their first son and heir, Charles Willis to be baptised. At the time Charles gave his occupation as being that of a ‘broker’, essentially a salesman, so not actually making the boots and shoes in the painting but selling them from his shop, these were second-hand boots and shoes.
The following year saw the arrival of a second child, again a son, Richard Willis, who died aged just two. The next birth was that of Jeremiah in 1825, followed by a daughter, Lydia in 1827.
At the end of 1828 things were not going well for Charles when he found himself in the House of Correction for assaulting a woman, this sentence being ‘three months on the treadwheel‘, which must have made life difficult for Diana as she was pregnant at the time with their final child who was born February 1829, a daughter, Mahalah.
It was then in 1829 that Charles was to die, aged just 44, and was buried on June 17 at St Andrew’s church. Given his sentence, it seems feasible that the time spent on the treadwheel may well have contributed to his demise (speculation of course).
His death was closely followed by that of his infant daughter, Mahalah, whose name appears on the same page of the burial register, but on the 31 December.
This left Diana to work out how to proceed as a widow with three children under 10 – Charles, Jeremiah and Lydia for comfort, but more importantly, to support if they were to avoid the workhouse.
The family business was taken over by a gentleman by the name of Mr Clarkson, who was described in the newspaper as
a dealer in old shoes, being the same colour and successor of a gentleman well known in Norwich by the title of Black Charley.
We meet up with Diana again on the 1841 census, the family had left their shop and moved to Black Horse Yard, Lower Westwick Street, in the St Lawrence district of Norwich.
Clearly, money was in short supply as Diana had become a washerwoman, but by now she had her three children all in their teens to assist with the household chores as well as being in employment. Her son, Charles was a labourer coachmaker, Jeremiah, a hawker, selling around the local area, the census doesn’t offer any clues as to what wares he was selling though. Lydia was just 13, so it would be safe to assume she was helping her mother until aged just 16, she was to die.
Quite what became of their son, Charles is a little unclear, but in 1842 he found himself in court a few times for theft.
In another newspaper report, Charles was described as ‘a mulatto son of Old Black Charley‘, thereby confirming that Charles and Diana’s marriage was a mixed-race marriage.
Young Charles Willis re-surfaced in Bristol when, in 1854 he described himself as a cook when he married a young widow, Catharine Harman. He named his father as Charles Willis, describing him as a cook – this is an occupation that doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else.
Being slightly suspicious, I do wonder whether he was being completely truthful when he married, especially as he also got his age wrong – he said he wasn’t born until 1826 when he was born 1822. Quite what happened with this marriage is lost to history right now, but curiously he appeared again in 1862, back in Norfolk where both he and his co-conspirator, John Harman were sentenced to a month in prison for larceny. Was John Harman connected to his wife Catherine, who knows, but it’s an unusual surname, so it seems likely. There is a burial for a Catherine Yearly in 1862 which in all likelihood was Charles’ wife.
Charles re-offended and found himself back in prison only a matter of weeks later, for a further six weeks.
Diana spent her remaining days living in Suffolk, with her son Jeremiah, his wife, Sarah, where at the age of 75, Diana was still working as a laundress.
In 1871, Jeremiah was a marine store dealer and by 1881 they had converted their home into a lodging house – 6, Mariners Street, Lowestoft where they remained until the end of their lives. Jeremiah was buried on 10 June 1886, aged 65, at Lowestoft, just two years after his wife Sarah Ann and as the couple had no children, with their death the Yearly name died out unless any proof appears that young Charles had any children, although that seems unlikely.
It would appear from the 1871 census that Diana was living at the House of Industry, Oulton, Suffolk, incorrectly named as Eliza Yearly, but with her age and place of birth being correct. She died there, aged 90 in 1879.
Today 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.