Today we’re following on from the previous article by R. M Healey with some more places in London to enjoy dining in the 18th century.
Windsor Castle, Richmond.
Long has this house been in estimation. Rigby, who often formerly used to bait here, en tête-à-tête, used to say “ that further up you may fare worse! “. The apartments are all spacious, and the view from behind a most luxurious landscape! Good eels, good fowls, and good venison, are found here. The various courses are all served up in style, and there is not a wine but what is of the highest flavour, and best quality. The stables too are excellent in equestrian accommodation; and that is no secondary consideration with a man of feeling, who feeds his horse himself, while the cuisineur is preparing his own feed. The charge is by no means extortionate, and there is as grateful a fair hair’d curtsey at the bar to be had for a shilling as for a guinea. In the left front parlour is a room befitting even Middleton himself. It was lined by India, at least in painting—the panels were formed for the room, and then sent out for Asiatic gilding!
Three Tuns, Strand.
The fragments of royalty smoke here; and smoke, too, in additionalperfume. It is a royal larder. Besides this luxurious conveniency, every choice article is to be had in season. The expence being tacked to the bill of fare, is no inconsiderable invitation to sit down. Bricklayers in their bills manage it otherwise. If Mr Hodd says that your demand is to cost ten pounds, it is ten to one that it will be thirty. The Lord Mayor himself cannot deny this. As for the Tuns, both upstairs and down stairs, all is activity, civility and good service too; nor should the company pass unnoticed, who though motley, are generally accomplished ; and where is the man of sense that would not choose his company before his food? As to the bill, it is very moderate.
Below we have a snippet about a young man who couldn’t pay for his meal at the Three Tuns:
Walker’s, the Assembly Rooms, Blackheath.
This tavern is very pleasantly situated on the Heath. The prospect to the north is rich, variegated and delightful; and this must certainly please the Scotch Golf Club, that when they look towards home from hence, it is viewing Thule in idea, through the most grand and attractive medium. The prospect to the south is not half so charming. It seems only a pleasing waste, not from sterility, but from the folly of continuing waste-grounds in a fertile country, mainly because we are free to do as absurd actions as we please. This liberal policy is a determined, though not rooted enmity against the wants of man. Why does not our patriot minister make all England yield that equal burthen which nature has intended?
As to Walker’s, they dress very good dinners. It is an excellent house for turbot. The Kentish Dispensary, it would appear, know this truism; for besides its being a centrical (sic) house for their dinners, it is an excellent and a reasonable house for making out a bill. All guests know that when a house is unreasonable, however wise it may appear in it’s (sic) own eyes, it ought either to be sent to Bridewell or Bedlam. Moderate profits, ready attendance and good cheer can only ensure business; and these recommendations, it may be with truth affirmed, are the characteristics of the Blackheath Assembly Rooms.
The Virginia, Newman’s Court, Cornhill.
This house is much frequented by ship carpenters, and ship brokers. Dinners are very well served up at 15d a head. Rural city merchants, that is, those who sleep in the country, generally dine here. The entertainment is good, and the charge moderate. As to the mistress at the bar, she is very obliging; she is as prolific in curtseys as a Frenchwoman, and as prolific in issue as a rabbit.
Mill’s, Gerrard Street, Soho
This house is remarkable for good red port, and good spirits. They dress dinners and suppers in style —and the breakfast are very comfortable. Several intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years, are it’s constant guests, and the conversation is both pleasing and instructive. The charges are indeed very reasonable, and the attention prompt and agreeable. It is celebrated for being the very first house that reduced the prices of wines and spirits, after the commencement of the French treaty.
Batson’s Coffee House, near ‘Change.
This is the English emporium for the Russian trade. The Baltic ships are regularly filed here. It is the great commercial mart, and city lounge for the Thornton’s. No dinners are dressed. Opulent and elegant clubs meet here. It is the coffee-house patron of Sunday schools. The ladies at the bar Flood their customers with good spirits, good coffee, and good looks. As to their proof brandy, it serves as excellent fur cloaks to the Russian captains.
Bull and Bush, North-End, Hampstead.
The bon-vivants for several miles around meet here every Friday. There is a very pleasant garden, in the midst of which is a bush, that can accommodate a dozen people to dinner. The rooms are cheerful, and the prospect, altho’ confined, is neatly rural, and somewhat romantic. Every article, both in eating and drinking is of the very best quality; and it being without the vortex of common Sunday pedestrians, it is a most delightful recess on that day as well as others. The bill is conscionable, and the service speedy.
The Windsor Castle inn seems to have disappeared.
Today, there are a couple of inns named The Three Tuns in the Strand area, but the one flourishing in 1788, appears to have gone.
The Assembly Rooms in Blackheath have long disappeared, but The Royal Blackheath Golf Club, ancestor of the Blackheath Golf Club, still exists, though it has now moved to Eltham. This ‘Scotch Golf Club’ had its HQ at the Greenwich end of the heath. Although it could trace its origins to 1608, when Scottish courtiers based at Greenwich Palace practiced their skills on the nearby heath, it was formally established in the mid eighteenth century. The scathing reference to the free market ( ie ‘ liberal’) practice of concentrating waste-grounds in ‘ fertile ‘Blackheath reveals a sensibility towards the environment that was surely ahead of its time. The Kentish Dispensary was, like the voluntary hospitals of the period, a source of drugs and medical care that was funded by voluntary subscriptions. It’s good to discover that the tradition of City bankers living opulently in the shires and commuting into the square mile each morning was alive in the late eighteenth century, though the absence of a railway network in 1788 meant that the country in this period probably meant Edmonton, Woodford or Clapham, all villages that could be reached by a fast coach from the City. Soho continued to be a refuge for ‘intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years ‘where good conversation could be had right up to the early nineteen seventies. Alas, that reputation is no more. We confess to being perplexed by the references to the Thorntons and Flood, but perhaps historians of London will know more. According to a writer in the Connoisseur magazine for 1754 Batson’s was where physicians met their clients. Food is still served at the famous Old Bull and Bush, and according to the deputy manager, there was once a bush in the garden. However, she could give no information on when it disappeared or whether it could once accommodate several customers.
When we’re looking for somewhere to dine out, we often use a website, such as Trip Advisor (others available, of course), but did you know that something similar existed in the 18th century? Well, today’s guest, who I am delighted to welcome, is historian and biographer R. M Healey. He has also written and contributed to many books, journals, newspapers and magazines, during a long and varied life, including working in various museums and art galleries in the UK. With that, I’ll hand over to him to share some of these reviews with you.
Reviews of eating and drinking establishments are rare in any newspapers and magazines of the Georgian era. However, the idea was taken up in 1815 by the journalist George Rylance in his very extensive survey, The Epicure’s Almanack, a recent edition of which was edited by Janet Ing Freeman.
Here is a selection of the best descriptions of eating and drinking resorts taken from a ‘Review of Taverns, Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published anonymously in the New London Magazine in July and August 1788. Oddly, although she pays tribute to the many manifestations of similar reviews in earlier books on London, Ms Freeman neglects to mention this particular magazine’s earlier survey.
Brentford Eights, an island in the Thames off Brentford
This is rendered famous for pitch-cock eels. It is likewise celebrated for a very favourite Dutch dish called Vater Zuchee. This dish is composed of perch, parsley-roots and vinegar, served up in a deep dish, with slices of bread and butter. The visitors of the Eights, in gormandising this dish, have no occasion for any other knives and forks than what nature has given them. It is common to eat with digits only.
If any stripling of fortune, whether a coxswain of a barge, or the supercargo of a post chaise, wishes to be indulged, he may be served here with zouchee to the amount of eight shillings a head.
Marlborough Coffee-House, Bond Street
Lord George Gordon used to say that this house was excellent for good fish. Do they purchase it off Philips—the Carnaby-market Cat—the best of all anglers? The frequenters are fashionable, the fare is of the best quality, nor can ever the guests repine at summing up the total of their entertainment.
New Spring Gardens, Chelsea
This is a foreign house where indeed, to do them justice, they dress all kinds of French dishes remarkably well. They have very good French and Portuguese wines. Their tevel is delicate and their red port strong and genuine, without the fiery aid of British brandy. This house is a bumper every Sunday, in the tea and ordinary style. The prospect from the pleasure ground is perhaps the richest rural view of any. In the fore-ground are the verdant lawns of Pimlico. In the side and backgrounds, St James’s Park, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s stand proudly pre-eminent. The service is neat, the entertainment good, the bill very moderate indeed! Excepting in rich eating and rich drinking, it is a complete rus in urbe.
Guildhall Coffee- House, King Street, Cheapside.
Frequented by all classes of luxurious citizens. Aldermen, Deputies, Common Councilmen, Gentlemen of the Long Robe attending the Courts, with a variety of others whose interest in pleasure leads them near the city senate. Here you may lodge and board —or you may dine in private, aux prix raisonable. Rich soup is made here in the season, which the lawyers devour as eagerly as their briefs. The Port is good and the Sherry most excellent. It is, indeed, pretty plentifully distributed to the neighbouring cits*. Sometimes the lawyers and common council gill it in a morning; and Pownall’s cellar has caused many a citizen’s question to be carried, and many a doubtful cause to be won. The address of Mr Pownal, and the attention of Mr Pugh give pleasure to all it’s (sic) visitants. The bill is very moderate.
Red Lion Inn, Hounslow.
A good house for post-chaises, good horses and good beds. There are two gardens belonging to it that are very pleasant for a solitary or a tête-à-tête walk. The larder is not variegated, but what it contains is of the prime. The port wine is good, and the tea and coffee excellent, nor should the clotted cream be forgotten. It is unadulterated, although chalk may be had very reasonable. The bill is very moderate for the western road, and the attendance prompt and pleasing.
Spread Eagle, Strand.
Long noted among the society of the humorous and intelligent. The rooms are here remarkably spacious. Indeed, they are in stile. As to the bill of fare, it abounds with every article in the season, from a mutton chop to a bustard or John-dory. The wines are all pure and well flavoured. If there be any preferable to others, it is the sherry and the port. The master and waiters are as civil and patient at four in the morning as at eight in the evening; and the prices of the various articles are very moderate.
Pitch-cock eels are here in the utmost perfection. Being in the vicinity of the palace, it is ever frequented in the summer months, by the great, the dissipated and the inquisitive. The apartments are airy, the bill of fare is rich and diversified. The wines are all excellent. If the bill appears stretched sometimes, strangers cannot much repine, as they have always the best of everything for their money, and likewise the utmost alacrity of attention. The guests would rather pay a guinea at the Toy, from experience, that fifteen shillings for the same fare any where contiguous.
Click on the highlighted link which will take you to Part Two
Today, young and monied men about town will no longer find local fish dishes being served on Brentford Ait, a long, narrow island in the Thames, lying opposite Kew Gardens and Brentford High Street, which is now just a greensward. However, Eel Pie Island, further downstream off Twickenham, got its name by offering similar fishy fare in Victorian times and became a trendy hot spot in the swinging sixties. Incidentally, it is slightly worrying to read that parsley root was an ingredient in Zucher Zee. Back in 1788, when the Thames was less polluted, the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (cicuta virosa) would have grown profusely along its banks; and in the annals of toxicology there are numerous cases of ignorant people mistaking the roots of this dangerous plant for parsnips. Many died horrible deaths. Let’s hope no cooks on the Brentford ‘Eights’ made the same mistake.
*A cit in Georgian slang was a ‘townsman ‘who traded. We would certainly like to know more about Philips, the ‘Carnaby-market cat’.
Not surprisingly, all of the eateries described have long vanished, although some of the buildings have survived. The Red Lion in Hounslow High Street, which Dickens knew, was flourishing (much changed) at least until the 1930s. It is now a Barclays bank. The original Toy inn, possibly dating from the time of Henry VIII, once stood close to the Hampton Court palace gates, where one of its regular customers was King William the Third. In The Epicure’s Handbook (1815) the Toy is described as being ‘on a larger scale than the King’s Arms, and the charges, we believe, are rather higher, but the fare is such to leave you no shadow of cause to repine at the expence ‘. By 1840, however, it had become ruinous, and it that year was reconstructed, relocated and renamed ‘Ye Old Toye’. It was still doing business until recently, but now seems to have closed.
Eagle Tavern and Coffee House near Somerset House formerly Bath and Liverpool Hotel. YCBA
Today, I’m delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. to tell us more about a fascinating portrait by George Romney housed at DACOR Bacon House, Washington D.C.
An oil portrait by George Romney graces the second-floor dining room of the historic DACOR Bacon House at 1801 F Street, N.W., Washington, DC. It is one of the very few Romney paintings found in the US, and you won’t find it on the internet. The portrait, hanging above the sideboard, is the focal point in a room furnished with exquisite antiques. It is Romney’s portrait of Lady Augusta Murray, holding her infant son, Augustus Frederick d’Este.
Unlike Romney’s many famous paintings of Lady Emma Hamilton, the portrait of Lady Murray is obscure, familiar mainly to those who frequent the DACOR Bacon House and know something of the mansion’s history. On the other hand, like Emma, and many of Romney’s female subjects, Lady Murray is portrayed in a charming manner. With dark curls encircling her face, she looks directly at the viewer with a tilt of her head and a shy, captivating smile. She wears a white, short-sleeved, high-collared dress and a turban. The boy, in a white frock, gazes into the distance, somewhere behind the viewer.
The DACOR Bacon House, the woman who owned the house and the portrait, and the portrait itself, all have complex histories that make for rich and fascinating tales of the Georgian Era and beyond, reaching into the twentieth century. Here are those interrelated stories.
The DACOR Bacon House
Built in 1825, the DACOR Bacon House is an architectural treasure; one of the best-preserved nineteenth-century, Federal-style landmarks in Washington DC. Just a short distance from the White House, the Capitol building, and the Supreme Court, the venue can boast almost two centuries of connections to the influential and the powerful who have conducted the nation’s domestic and foreign affairs.
To enter the house is to walk in the footsteps of presidents, justices, governors, senators, diplomats, military leaders, and dignitaries who lived there or visited to attend dinners, balls, receptions, and musicales. As a family home and sometime boarding house, the structure has been the residence of a diplomat, a US Marshall, Supreme Court justices, an heiress and one-time English countess, and a New York congressman, as well as social and cultural leaders. The house is named after Congressman Robert Low Bacon, and his wife, Virginia Murray Bacon, who owned the house from 1925 until her death in 1980.
Today the stately, four-story, beautifully appointed mansion is the headquarters of the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired foundation, known as DACOR, a non-profit educational and cultural institution dedicated to excellence in the field of international understanding and discourse in shaping US public policy. The foundation hosts meetings, dinners, receptions, and conferences for discussions of literature, history, and topics related to and bearing directly on current foreign affairs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation holds an easement to preserve the property and structure for future generations.
The property on which the house sits was once part of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Census records show that it was a farm tract owned by David Burnes who emigrated from Scotland in 1721. Burnes expanded his holdings to encompass much of the area that would eventually become Washington, DC. Upon his death, the land passed to his son, James, who expanded the holdings, and eventually, in 1772, to his grandson, David Burnes II, who served as a lieutenant in the War for American Independence. In 1790, Congress established a federal city on the banks of the Potomac River. Within the following year, Burnes sold a portion of his holdings to the newly formed federal government. That land today forms a segment of the Washington Mall and the south half of the White House grounds.
David Burnes II retained the remaining portion of his land that had become situated in the District of Columbia. When he died in 1800, his property passed to his teenaged daughter, Marcia Brown Burnes. In 1802, her guardian, John Oakley, sold three lots of the property to William Hammond Dorsey, a prominent member of the nearby Georgetown community and a judge of the Orphan’s Court of Washington County, Maryland.
Subsequently, the remaining property passed through additional owners. Respectively, they were: Jacob Wagner, chief clerk of the Department of State and the owner of the Federal Republican newspaper; Tobias Lear V, former private secretary to George Washington and, afterward, a US diplomat serving under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; and Mr. Tench Ringgold, US Marshall for the District of Columbia, appointed by President James Monroe.
In 1824, Ringgold built a three-story, Federal-style house on the property with borrowed money (from his daughter, Sarah) and slave labour. He added two outbuildings; a storage/gardening shed and a carriage house.
Ringgold was well-placed socially. He attended the inaugural ball for President John Quincy Adams in May 1825. He befriended Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who both died in 1826, as did Ringgold’s wife, Mary, with whom he had five children. In keeping with local custom, the Ringgold’s opened their home as a boarding house to non-resident, government officials. Chief Justice John Marshall and numerous associate justices and their clerks boarded at the Ringgold home. Former President Monroe and his wife were guests in 1829 and 1830.
When President Andrew Jackson took office in 1831, he dismissed Ringgold from his post as US Marshall, despite Ringgold’s strenuous objections. Ringgold fell into financial difficulties and defaulted on the loan, urging Sarah and her husband, John M. Thomas, to foreclose on the property and take ownership. The Thomas’s held possession from 1833 to 1835, when they sold the house to Samuel Sprigg.
Sprigg, born about 1783, was a wealthy landowner. He was married to Violetta Lansdale with whom he had two children. He was the first governor of Maryland, a position he held until December 1822. At his death in 1855, his estate was valued at $50,000, including 61 slaves. He bought the house as a residence for his daughter, Sally, and her husband William Thomas Carroll, who was a Supreme Court clerk appointed by Chief Justice John Marshall, a position he held for 36 years. The F Street house, known as the Sprigg-Carroll House, stayed in Sprigg’s name until his death, when it went in trust to his daughter. During the Carroll’s occupancy, the house underwent expansion and many renovations to include connections to city’s new water and sewer system in the 1860s.
The Carroll’s enjoyed affluence and social prominence. They entertained lavishly and spent summers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They had four daughters and three sons, two of whom died in childhood. The daughters all married well. The surviving son was an officer in the Union Army, wounded during the Civil War, retiring as a major-general.
William Carroll died in 1863 at age 61. Sally Carroll remained in the house until her death in 1895 at age 81. Her son-in-law and executor to her will then sold the house to Mary Ellen (Mollie) Fuller, the second wife of Melville Weston Fuller, Chief Justice to the Supreme Court, nominated by President Grover Cleveland in 1888. The Fuller family lived at the mansion for 14 years, enlarging and modernizing the living spaces and outbuildings.
The Fullers were a fixture of Washington high society. They entertained with grand fetes and, as the Chief Justice aged, small dinner parties for close friends. Justice Fuller also opened his home to weekly conferences with associate justices. The family spent the summers in Maine, where, in 1904, Mollie died of a heart attack. Justice Fuller died in 1910, replaced by Chief Justice Edward D. White, grandson of Tench Ringgold, who built the house on F. Street.
In 1911, a new owner took residence. Alice Copely Thaw was one of 10 children born to William Thaw, a wealthy capitalist who left a fortune to his heirs upon his death in 1889. In 1903, she married George Francis Alexander (Seymour), Earl of Yarmouth and relocated to England. When the marriage failed in 1908, she returned to the US, bought the mansion in 1911, and retained ownership until 1923. She continued remodelling and improvements, to include installing electricity throughout the house. In 1912, she married Geoffrey Whitney, a broker from New York. The Whitney’s moved to New York and rented the home on F Street to various tenants.
In 1923, the newly elected US congressman from New York’s First District, Robert Low Bacon, and his wife, Virginia Murray Bacon, rented the house. They bought it from Alice Thaw Whitney in 1925.
Virginia Murray Bacon
Virginia Murray was born in New York City in 1890. Her father’s family was descended from Scottish nobility; her great-great-grandfather was Lord John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia. He fled the colonies under protection of the Royal Navy. Subsequently, he became the royal governor of the Bahamas.
Her father, Henry Murray, was the son of an English diplomat. As a young man, Henry moved from England to Canada, and eventually to New York, where he found work with a securities firm. In 1889, he married Fannie Morris Babcock, an heiress from a family of wealthy landowners, soldiers, bankers, and businessmen. Henry Murray enjoyed a successful career in finance and the couple quickly rose to social prominence. The Murrays had three children. The eldest was Virginia, born in 1890.
Virginia Murray was beautiful, well-educated, and well-connected. Her marriage to Congressman Robert Bacon was the highlight of the New York social season. Born in 1884, Robert was the son of a successful banker, soldier, and diplomat. Robert, himself, was a Harvard graduate and successful banker who went into politics and served in the Army Officer Reserve Corps.
Virginia rapidly became a grand dame of Washington society. She hosted presidents, noted musicians, statesmen, and social leaders. She generously supported organizations concerned with world affairs and the arts. She was named to several boards and committees and received prestigious awards.
She remodelled the mansion and planted majestic trees in the garden, where she often hosted buffet luncheons during World War II, inviting weary officials to drop by, unannounced, for a midday respite. She filled the rooms with tasteful furniture, much of it imported from Europe and England, and objects of art, especially historic lithographs, and family portraits.
The Bacon House Foundation
Robert Bacon served eight terms and died in office in 1938 at age 54. His wife remained in residence until her death in 1980 at age 89. Prior to her death, she considered options for leaving the building to an organization that would preserve its history and character. She wanted the Bacon house to “enjoy a lively existence consistent with the interests and connections of its occupants through the years, and be characterized by dignity, taste and intelligence.” In 1975, she established the Bacon House Foundation to that end.
The foundation took ownership of the house, with a permanent deed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The foundation then purchased adjoining lots, razed the homes on these lots, and sold the lots to the Organization of American States for the organization’s headquarters and offices. In 1980, with Virginia Bacon’s blessing, the foundation partnered with DACOR and the DACOR Educational and Welfare Foundation, to convert the home, upon her demise, from a residence to offices and an educational center. The DACOR Bacon House merger was finalized in 1985.
The house and outbuildings have undergone extensive renovations since 1980. DACOR added a library and a collection of diplomatic memorabilia. Every effort has been made to give the home a nineteenth century atmosphere and to preserve the beautiful furnishings and works of art that once belonged to the Bacon family. One such piece is the Romney portrait of Lady Augusta Murray and her son.
The History of the Romney Painting
The Romney oil painting that hangs in the DACOR Bacon House dining room has a small, gold plaque mounted on the bottom of the frame that reads:
George Romney R.A. 1734 – 1802. Lady Augusta Murray, 2nd Daughter of the Fourth Earl of Dunmore. Married the Duke of Sussex. Holding on her lap her infant son Sir Augustus Frederick d’Este in white frock. Collection of Lord Truro.
Lady Augusta Murray (1768 – 1830) was the daughter of John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (hence, the connection to Virginia Murray Bacon, as described above). Her mother was Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of Alexander Stewart, 6th Earl of Galloway. She and Prince August Frederick (1773 – 1843), sixth son of King George III, met while he was a young man vacationing in Rome. They married in 1793 in a private ceremony in Rome in opposition to the Royal Marriage Act. They later married again in a religious ceremony in London, without revealing their true identities.
The royal family declared the marriage null and void. The couple remained together for eight years, producing two children: Augustus Frederick d’Este (1794 – 1848) and Augusta Emma d’Este (1801 – 1866). While the Romney painting is not dated, it was most likely painted in 1795 or 1796, in that the infant, Augustus Frederick, looks to be about 18 months old.
The couple parted company in 1801, when the prince grew frustrated with the monarch’s refusal to grant him a dukedom. The prince gave Augusta custody of the children, at which point she and the children took the surname d’Este (some sources say Ameland). In 1809, the prince took custody of the children, arranging a pension for his former wife. He became the Duke of Sussex.
After Augusta’s death, Prince Augustus married Lady Cecelia Buggin, daughter of the second Earl of Arron. Again, the marriage was contrary to the Royal Marriage Act. However, in 1837, Queen Victoria dubbed Lady Cecilia as Duchess of Inverness, granting a royal favor to her favourite uncle, and acquiring royal precedence for her consort, Prince Albert.
At age 18, the younger Augustus was commissioned in the Seventh Royal Fusiliers and fought in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Although he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was known for his unlikable, pretentious personality. He died in 1848, unmarried, with no heirs, and crippled by the first-ever diagnosed case of multiple sclerosis.
His sister, Emma, was the second wife to Thomas Wilde (1782 – 1855), 1st Baron Truro, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain 1850 – 1852, formerly the Solicitor General, Attorney General, and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. They married in 1845. She had no children. She inherited the Romney portrait of her mother and brother. Thus, it became part of the Truro Collection.
Little else is known about the portrait, until 1921, when Charles W. Schwab, a wealthy American industrialist, bought it at an auction in London. Three years after Schwab’s death in 1939, the portrait again came up for auction in New York. Virginia Bacon bought it and placed it in the second-floor dining room of her home at 1801 F Street, Washington, DC where it remains today.
The portrait delights all visitors who appreciate seeing one of the few works by Romney to be found in a private collection in the US.
Since Judith wrote this article I have been made aware that there has been some doubt as to the identity of the portrait, which led me to carry out some of my own research.
DACOR Bacon House understands it to be Lady Augusta Murray, as you can see on the plaque beneath it, and it was certainly believed to have been that of Lady Augusta Murray, when it was sold by auctioneers, Christie’s in 1900.
The portrait formed part of a collection belonging to the estate of the then, late Lord Truro. The painting achieved a mere 500 guineas in comparison to another portrait of her which sold for £3,800 guineas, some 6 years previously.
The Illustrated London News, 30 June 1900, included a copy of the portrait, as can be seen below:
The Morning Post described it thus:
Art historian, Dr Alex Kidson, who has recently produced the catalogue raisonné of Romney’s painting, did not include this portrait in his catalogue, as he did not believe it to be by Romney. Therefore, if not by Romney, then it would appear that more work needs to be carried out to ascertain who painted it.
The is another portrait of Lady Augusta by Romney which was sold back in the 1960’s and has since disappeared from public view, so if anyone knows where it is please do let me know.
William D. Calerhead, DACOR Bacon House. (Archetype Press, Inc. Washington, D.C. 1999)
Lynda A. O’Keeffe is a researcher/writer who lives between England and Ireland. She has contributed to numerous publications including History Ireland and various online publications including the Irish Literary Society. She has recently completed a historical novel about the life and works of John O’Keeffe and is currently writing a stage play about John’s extraordinary life reflecting the effect of blindness in shaping his work, and intends to write about Adelaide.
Lynda has joined me a couple of times now to share some of her research into the lives of John O’Keeffe, the blind playwright and his devoted daughter, Adelaide. Well, she’s back with lovely story about one of her discoveries – the gravestone of Adelaide. So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Lynda:
Under what guise would the intention of grave hunting be labelled? Some may say, curiosity, even morbid curiosity, familial research, genealogy or just the simple desire to reify a particular relationship?
In the case of Adelaide it was a stubborn desire to know more about an extraordinary woman. A woman who from the age of twelve years worked for forty five years as her blind father’s amanuensis, companion and carer. Although as his amanuensis she lived in the shadow of his playwright fame, she shone her own bright light in the books she authored. In 1833, Adelaide’s father died leaving the then fifty seven year old spinster alone and in poverty. She had declined offers of marriage to care for her father, and some may say, she sacrificed her entire life for him.
After her fathers death, Adelaide led a somewhat itinerant life, staying for short periods around the villages on the Sussex coastline. There are so many questions about the day to day circumstances of a woman who played an important and vital role in the education of children, yet as a person remained somewhat unknown and now forgotten. Like so many women in the 18th and 19th century, Adelaide must have battled hard for recognition in a gender biased society, were the employment of women was frowned upon.
Did the income from her writing provide periods of relief from her poverty, did she work as a governess, have friends to support her, and did she ever regret the sacrifices she made on account of her father’s disability? There is something there that demands respect and admiration for a woman living alone in a time that cannot be compared with life today.
Adelaide, her life and work is an enigma, with a thought and a whisper, Adelaide should have recognition. With so many unanswered questions, the quest to find her final resting place began. A quick trawl on Ancestry showed that she died in Brighton. On the 1861 Census, she is listed as a boarder aged eighty five; the other boarders are women half a century or more younger than her.
Armed with the date of Adelaide’s passing, an email was sent to Brighton cemeteries and shortly after a reply, stating Adelaide’s final resting place as the Extra Mural Cemetery on Lewes Road, Brighton. The kindly man in the office, listened patiently as the story of Adelaide was told, persuading him to dig out the burial records from 1865. Adelaide’s burial was not that of a pauper, he said, but of average cost, her casket was oak and the funeral rites were led by a chaplain. There is no indication of who attended her funeral, bought the burial plot or placed the gravestone with its tender inscription.
A strong urge, or perhaps a compulsion, a nagging insistence that Adelaide’s grave needed to be visited, to say that first hello, utter a prayer and lay flowers for a person who gave up so much for her father, and gave so much to the world through her literary genius. This compulsion was not borne of pity, but of admiration for a woman who quietly achieved. The kindly man in the cemetery office dug out a map of the burial grounds and thereupon the location of Adelaide’s grave was revealed, but only literally, not physically!
The pandemic struck and all notions of locating and visiting Adelaide’s grave were put on hold, as the world hunkered down in terror of this ghost like virus that lurked unseen, devastating lives in its wake. A miserable, dark time when visiting a cemetery seemed the last thing on anyone’s mind.
In November 2021, the world seemed to relax and the virus loosened its grip and the terror began to dissipate, as if in celebration the sky was blue, hardly a cloud in the sky and the sun shone on the day the long journey to the Extra Mural Cemetery in Brighton began. With a car packed with spade, forks, secateurs, trowel, gardening gloves, the obligatory hand sanitiser, face masks and a box of chocolate truffles to thank kindly man for his help; all set for the long awaited discovery of Adelaide’s grave. However, now reading this back, it sounds more like preparations for a grave robbery or that of a body snatcher.
Arriving promptly at 12 noon as pre arranged with kindly man in the cemetery office and with all the ‘grave-hunters’ paraphernalia slung over a shoulder, said kindly man proceeds to march in an authoritative fashion in the direction of where Adelaide’s grave should be. Up a slightly hilly road, turning left and down a steep gravelly path it was becoming increasingly difficult to balance with one heavy spade in left hand and large bag with gardening tools in right, but onwards kindly man marched without a thought for the ‘pack person’ struggling behind him. You might well ask where the chocolate truffles were at this stage of the journey, I had given them on meeting kindly man.
Back to our story, it was at this point that the questioning began for the the reasoning behind this unlikely excursion. Upon reaching the end of the gravelly path, he turned sharp right onto a tarmac path and comes to an abrupt halt and points to a wall, saying, ‘Her grave is somewhere over there.’ The sight of the wall presented a conundrum…a ladder had not been thought of, how to get over the wall? So near, yet so far. Recognising the concern about the wall, kindly man, then marches further along the tarmac path and says, ‘No need for a ladder, we can go this way’.
Further we yomp, until arriving at a small muddy track that leads upwards into an area of thick undergrowth, a luxurious green carpet woven with ivy, bramble and periwinkle – all made treacherous by their ability to tangle around an unsuspecting foot, the area was also on a slope! The only paths that criss crossed the green carpet, were those of rabbits. There were no headstones that could be used as markers, it was only then that the reality kicked in that it was going to be near impossible to find Adelaide in this overgrown wilderness with it’s residents sleeping silently underfoot.
Kindly man stops and stretching out his arms, announces, ‘Her grave should be somewhere around here.’ This somewhere could have been one hundred metres radius or half a metre, what difference did it make? The challenge was there, we had come so far… In desperation, a plea, which was intended to be silent, poured forth, ‘Oh come on, Adelaide. show us where you are.’
Kindly man, looked concerned and in an attempt to ignore, busied himself by pushing and clearing the undergrowth with his booted foot. ‘Hang on’ he says, ‘Here’s something, it says authoress.’ Of course it had to be Adelaide! Further clearance of the tangled ivy and bramble revealed part of the inscription of the gravestone – Adelaide, we had found her, hooray.
Now dear reader picture this, sloping ground covered in undergrowth and one person on hands and knees with secateurs excitedly cutting away the ivy, whilst trying to maintain an element of dignity whilst slipping down the slope, being watched over by a solemn cemetery officer. How glorious were the words when, kindly man says…’Excuse me, if you don’t mind…’ At last he was to take charge of the spade, clear the undergrowth, oh the delight…he continued, ‘…I will go for my lunch.’ ‘Oh…’ was the slightly miffed reply, ‘Is it safe here, in this secluded part of the cemetery?’ As he strode off in his authoritarian gait in search of his lunchbox, he stopped and turned for a second to say, ‘We’ve never had any trouble, you have my telephone number if you do have a problem.’
Now alone with Adelaide in her secret garden, her gravestone revealed, and the inscription exposed. A prayer was uttered and flowers laid and somewhere in a far away place, perhaps in one’s psyche or imagination, or maybe, Adelaide was there, laughter could be heard and a smile imagined.
Did Adelaide regret the sacrifices she made? Read the inscription and then conclude.
Today’s post is a little unusual, as I welcome back legal eagle, Mel Barnes who has worked with me in a joint article, to tell the story of a very messy divorce (quite literally), as you’ll discover later.
As most of us know from experience, the golden rule when talking to someone about their divorce is that almost always, ‘the other spouse is always to blame’, a principle enshrined in natural law when Adam pointed his apple-scented finger at Eve and told God it was all her fault. But that’s all about to change with the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020on 6 April 2022 with a no-fact, no-fault, quickie online divorce. While the country perhaps celebrates this long-awaited change, in this post we will instead commiserate with a divorcing couple from the eighteenth century.
Historically, the Ecclesiastical Court could only pronounce a divorce mensa et thoro, separation from bed and board, now known in law as judicial separation for couples who do not want to divorce for religious reasons.
A divorce à vinculo matrimonii, one that dissolved the marriage, was only possible with a private member’s bill and were very rare, with only sixty divorce acts were passed between 1715 and 1775.
This brings us to our unhappy couple who wed on 14 June 1729 at Holland House in Kensington: Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort (aged 22), and Frances Scudamore (aged 18); otherwise, Lord and Lady Beaumont.
Sadly, for the young couple, their respective fathers both died young, but fortunately at a time when they were fantastically rich. This was the marriage of two extremely affluent families, bringing to it both money and land and a union of wealth and assets, though Henry gifted jewellery with a value of £500 to Frances (about £60,000 today), which shows he was committed to the union.
Part of the marriage agreement included the requirement for Henry to also take Frances’ surname:
Obliging the duke and Duchess of Beaufort and her children to take the additional surname and bear the arms of Scudamore, pursuant to a settlement made by James, late Lord Scudamore and vesting in the duke in fee the manors of Wickhall and Ditton Camois and lands in Cambridgeshire, late the testate of Lord Scudamore, in lieu of the portion provided by him for his daughter, the said Duchess and other provisions.
As the years went by, the couple’s separate lives and absence of the pattering of small feet began to attract attention. The lack of an heir and a spare would have been seen as a major problem for these two dynasties, and it was highly likely that medical advice would have been sought about why Fanny couldn’t conceive (obviously, this was automatically assumed to be her fault).
Married life wasn’t great for Frances and Henry and it became a whole lot worse when, in 1736 Frances it would appear, contracted small pox and returned to the family home, Holme Lacy in Herefordshire to rest and be treated by the Scudamore physician, but she did recover from this.
In 1740, Frances met William, Lord Talbot (1710-1782), at that time a lawyer and politician referred to by Horace Walpole as having
some wit, and a little tincture of a disordered understanding; but was better known as a boxer and man of pleasure than in the light of a statesman.
William had also married for money, his wife being Mary de Cardonnel, but after two children (a daughter, Cecil (1735-1793) and a son, William who only survived until 1742), she was advised that she was unlikely to survive another pregnancy, so with that, he declared that he was ‘deprived of her sexual services’ and sought solace elsewhere.
With Frances looking for love and William for pleasure, the couple made a perfect match. They began an indiscrete relationship, which soon led to tongues wagging and an open secret that they were having an affair.
Initially, Henry was pragmatic about the affair and he and Frances executed a Deed of Separation under which each agreed not to make a claim against the other’s estate. This amicable relationship would not last long, as just few months later, Frances discovered that she was pregnant to William – this was not good!
As far as high society was concerned, indiscretion was forgivable, but public adultery was not. On 13 September 1741, Frances gave birth to a daughter who she named Fanny Matthews to hide her real identity. With Henry being in poor health, Frances hoped that he would soon die, so she could pass off her daughter as his, but alas, he recovered!
Meanwhile, William had grown bored with Frances, and he ended their relationship, but it’s not clear at that stage what became of their daughter, was she raised by Frances or perhaps William who had returned to his wife, something which was not unusual at that time.
Henry, continued with his mission and by June 1742, had obtained all the damning statements and evidence he could against Frances, and issued divorce proceedings against her for adultery.
What he hadn’t bargained on though, was that Frances would make a counter-application on the basis of his impotency, a claim that she knew would involve humiliating Henry with a very intimate examination.
In his Reply, Henry claimed that they had slept together in one bed for ten years and produced witness statements from servants swearing that they had ‘actually seen the stains’ on the bedding, proving their intimacy.
None of the evidence was given much weight, and a judge eventually held that Henry needed to prove once and for all that ‘duke-junior’ could ‘rise to the occasion‘.
This would involve either: masturbating and ejaculating, or having sex with a woman before court-appointed witnesses. Soul-crushing shame aside, what we want to know is whether the woman was also to have been appointed by the court. What sort of terrible employment would she have agreed to? However, a very embarrassed Henry eventually decided on the former and was successful. Thereby, winning his case, which gave him damages and costs of £80,000 (about £1 million in today’s money).
After a protracted bill through Parliament, the parties were finally divorced in March 1744, when the Act took effect. Any happiness with the freedom to marry would be short lived for our unhappy couple, as Henry died less than a year later, in February 1745.
As for Frances, well, she married again, not to Lord William Talbot, but to Colonel Charles Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of the 2nd Duke of Grafton. The couple married on 4 July 1748, at Holme Lacy, Herefordshire.
Francs died just seven months later, and was buried on 27 February 1749 at Holme Lacy, aged just 38. This was just six days after giving birth to another daughter, Frances, who was presented for baptism at St George’s, Hanover Square on 14 February 1749.
For anyone recently separated, know that everything will now be a lot easier in terms of the process, and be thankful for a divorce that no longer has anything to do with ‘private members!’.
As for Frances’s illegitimate daughter, Fanny, little is known about her life, but in his Will of 1782, William referred to his daughter Cecil, but, also, more curiously, ‘my very dear daughter, Miss Fanny Talbot, now living with me’.
So, it looks as if his illegitimate daughter ended up being cared for in a loving home, which means we can end on a happy note.
I am delighted to welcome, author, Andrew Noone, whose book, ‘Bathsheba Spooner, A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy’ makes for a fascinating read. Bathsheba was was the first woman in American history to be executed following the Declaration of Independence. Today Andrew is going to share with us a little about Bathsheba, followed by some questions and answers.
Bathsheba Spooner was the next-to-last of seven children born to Timothy Ruggles and Bathsheba Bourne Newcomb; Mrs. Ruggles had birthed eight children from her first marriage. Her mother’s roots were firmly planted in one of Cape Cod’s oldest families, her father’s from Roxbury. Timothy was born in 1711, descendant of a family long involved in Massachusetts politics, but none enjoyed the status to which he would rise.
A Brigadier General in the French and Indian War, he had also served as Speaker of the House for two years. His reputation suffered dramatically when, as delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 in New York, he refused to join those protesting the actions of Parliament and King George III. Now firmly placed in the camp of those loyal to the king, he freely accepted the position of mandamus councillor, one of the men who were appointed by the king’s governor to the upper Massachusetts house,
to do the king’s bidding.
Few men were as loathed in Massachusetts in the year 1774. That year, he was banished from his new hometown of Hardwick, a town his ancestors had
founded and he himself nurtured. He remained in British controlled Boston until Evacuation Day, March 17, 1776, when he was removed with most Tories to Staten Island.
In the meantime, daughter Bathsheba had married Joshua Spooner of Boston, a
businessman/land speculator/lumber salesman.
The couple settled in Brookfield, not far from nearby Hardwick; the marriage may have been an arranged one, a marriage which gossipers usually characterized as inharmonious.
Sixteen- year- old militiaman Ezra Ross of Topsfield (a native of Ipswich) left his hospital camp in 1777 in Peekskill, NY to venture home. En route, he was taken in by Bathsheba in Brookfield, and nursed back to health. He returned to Topsfield, then headed west again that fall to join what would become the Battle of Saratoga. The British had hoped to cut New England off from the remaining nine colonies, General Burgoyne’s troops heading south to meet up with General Howe’s troops heading north. It was not to be; Howe instead focused on Philadelphia, leaving
Burgoyne to fend off the increasing masses of American troops north of Albany. His entire army surrendered to American General Gates. Marched to Boston, the British prisoners of war were quartered in Cambridge and Charlestown.
Both Sgt. James Buchanan and Private William Brooks managed to escape (not a difficult task), and likely met each other in Worcester for the first time. Now February 1778, the men were apparently headed to Springfield for work when during a fierce snowstorm, they were called in to the Spooner home.
They remained there for the next few weeks, Bathsheba plotting her husband’s
murder with them. In the meantime, young Ezra Ross, just having attempted to poison Mr. Spooner, left with him to prepare his Princeton property, soon to be handed over to Spooner’s brother.
Ross never made it to Princeton, apparently, borrowing Spooner’s horse to return to Topsfield. All rendezvoused in Brookfield the evening of March 1, 1778; it is unclear if their meeting was coincidental or arranged. Having dined with a friend and his wife, Joshua returned home alone through the snow, and was assaulted at his well, beaten to death, and thrown in while his wife finished eating her dinner.
The clothes he wore and those from his chamber, along with his cash, were distributed among the three men, who fled on horseback and foot.
All were arrested the next day. The trial took place in late April, Abraham Lincoln’s distant cousin as defence attorney, Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration as prosecutor, in a trial organized by Gov. John Hancock. With a trial lasting just over a day plus, all were found guilty.
The date of execution was originally set for early June, but the four received a stay until July 2.
Bathsheba claimed pregnancy; the officials in Boston allowed an exam to be done, proving that she was not with child. She insisted; a second exam, not authorized, instead confirmed her pregnancy, but the Boston authorities would not relent.
Despite an informal third exam proving her right, her execution date was not changed.
On June 10, Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy, with his father in Paris:
… the Modern History of our own times furnishes as black a list of crimes as can be paralleled in ancient time, even if going back to Nero, Caligula, or Cesare Borgia.
All four accomplices were hanged July 2; an autopsy requested by Bathsheba confirmed her pregnancy of five months, with a male child.
Timothy Ruggles eventually found his way to Nova Scotia, where as a loyal servant to the Crown he was granted a multi-hundred acre estate which he fostered as he had his legendary estate in Hardwick; his wife chose to stay behind in Massachusetts with their son. Timothy died in 1795, and was buried near his home in Nova Scotia.
To this day, the burial site in Green Hill Park of Bathsheba and her unborn son has never been located; it remains Worcester County’s favourite mystery.
What inspired you to write this book?
When my family bought our first home across the street from Green Hill Park, a friend came by for dinner a few weeks later. He reminded me of the infamous tale of Bathsheba Spooner. A lifelong devotee of Worcester’s history, especially as a village during the Revolution, I wanted to learn more. This being the late 90’s, besides a mid-19th c. essay and the odd article or two, no full scale study had ever been done. I decided that my first book would tackle the notorious episode. While in the middle of research, and with the book about a third written, Deborah Navas’ book appeared in 1999. Well written and scholarly, I admired her contribution, yet I still
hungered for a less academic approach, one which would comprehensively relate the details of the case; while nonfiction, I wanted to tell the story more like a novel. And I wanted to do more than just relate a true-to-life melodrama. Since the early 19th century, historians, poets and other writers from eastern Massachusetts have been Boston-centric in their retelling of the colony’s role in the Revolution, to the neglect of many other towns. Worcester’s contribution to the conflict and the events leading up to the opening gunshot looms dramatically larger than the mere 1,800 residents of 1778. I chose the tale of Bathsheba and her murderous lovers as the frame upon which to re-construct Worcester’s significant role in the rebellion.
Was Bathsheba insane?
Playing armchair psychologist from nearly two-and-a-half centuries away is tenuous for a professional; for me, impossible. We can only speculate, and the facts might lend themselves to characterizing Ms. Spooner as imbalanced. She had a sharp temper, and was involved sexually with at least two, and more likely five men, none of whom were her husband. She freely welcomed two enemy prisoners of war into her home, and on occasion, a handsome teenager, in her husband’s presence. Her actions were often erratic. She allowed her two-year-old daughter to touch her husband’s corpse. She jeopardized the future lives of her three surviving children. She lied incessantly. Would we be safe in assuming that she at least exhibited signs of a disordered personality? Although her attorney suggested insanity during the trial, it would take many more decades before such a defence would be admissible in a court of law.
Was teenager Ezra Ross truly guilty? And of what?
This is one of the hardest to answer, and the overall situation perhaps the most poignant of the saga. Age wise, the eighteenth-century freely condemned teenagers. But what exactly was his role? It appears that he had no knowledge of the murderous March 1 plot before that date. He had spent many days before at his Topsfield home (had Bathsheba sent him any letters while there? Given the slow pace of mail, it’s unlikely). He turned up in Brookfield only hours before
the murder, which he did discuss with the two British men, and Bathsheba. And keeping in mind that weeks earlier he had tried to poison Spooner, and had planned to try again before leaving for Topsfield, his background certainly did not incline the jury to consider his role more leniently.
To read the whole story Andrew’s book is available via the link at the beginning of the story.
Homestead of General Timothy Ruggles, Hardwick, Massachusetts Worcester Art Museum
I am delighted to welcome back, ‘legal eagle’ Melanie Barnes, who, with today being Valentine’s Day, is taking a look at brides and bigamy.
When the government introduced Lord Hardwicke’s Bill for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage in 1753, the whole country literally was livid. Modern commentators have now acknowledged that in reality the Acts made little difference, but at the time the mere idea of marriages only in public led to widespread protests, a gazillion angry pamphlets and much debate.
Essentially, the Marriage Act introduced the structure for a valid marriage as we know it today with public banns and licence, but previously it was also possible to have a ‘clandestine marriage’ in secret. You’ve probably already imagined a dashing young Master sneaking into the stables with a pretty young maid, and you’d be right, as the Bill was partly designed to prevent rich heirs from being seduced into clandestine marriages with their social and economic inferiors.
One of the problems is that a valid marriage attracted all sorts of financial goodies such as rights to maintenance, inheritance or property. For example, a spouse could sue for ‘reinstatement of conjugal rights’ or bring a claim of ‘failure to maintain’ in order to receive regular support. Or, a husband could sue for damages if the promised ‘portion’ or dowry was not paid. Any valid marriage, for example, one that might quickly follow the tête-à-tête between the young heir and his maid, could also annul any future union which automatically made the children of the second marriage illegitimate. Oh the shame!
In terms of punishment, the Act provided that any clergymen who performed clandestine marriages were to be transported to America for 14 years. I like to think that this explains why there are so many Chapels of Love in Las Vegas.
It was also hoped that the Bill would prevent the problem of bigamy as marriage was a well-known remedy for women against debt. Essentially, upon marriage in the 18th century, a man and woman became one legal entity under the doctrine of coverture and the husband would subsume his wife’s rights and obligations. This prevented, for example, women from owning property in her own name without permission from her husband (though she could protect her money through a trust), but also made him solely responsible for their joint actions in crime, for example if they both committed murder. Coverture is one of the reasons that gave men the right to physically chastise his wife – if there was a risk that the wife could break the law then she needs to be controlled! It’s very hard for us now to get our heads around this doctrine, but at the time it was simply accepted.
In terms of liabilities, any debt accrued by a woman was the responsibility of her husband so, yep, you guessed it; all she needed to do in order to avoid liability was to marry. This also wasn’t a problem for the new husband (who might have been paid for his services), as law suits were crazy-expensive and took years in court. I am aware of one woman who went on to marry five times without a single divorce and in her memoir describes how she arranged the first simply to avoid prison. In fact, her first husband was already married so when her second husband tried to argue that their marriage was void, the woman argued that this was impossible as her first union was already void so their marriage was valid and … yeah, it’s complicated.
Lord Hardwicke was aware of this particular case and referred to it in parliamentary debates. Of course, he couldn’t say that the real reason the Act was needed was to stop rich people from marrying the poor, so much was made about bigamy, when in reality, fake marriages were probably not that widespread a problem, although they did happen.
But, it wasn’t all bad for those who opposed the Act as they had the final glorious protest. On the day before the Marriage Act was introduced in 1754, in defiance of the new rules, hundreds of couples entered into a clandestine marriage. I like to think that all of them ended up drinking and dancing in Covent Garden. Thousands of people all coming together in a democratic demonstration of nuptial love and freedom. I wonder how many of us were born of those unions. It’s a lovely thought.
I am thrilled to welcome to All Things Georgian a new guest, Melanie Barnes. Mel is is a lawyer and recent NFTS Screenwriting MA graduate, who has more than a passing interest in 18th century marriage law, military history and like myself, she loves all things Georgian.
Mel’s post today takes a look at punishment and so I should warn you that it includes images of violence, which many people may find upsetting.
The British Army, an elite unit of around 1000 “gentlemen volunteers” from Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh regiments, came into being with the restoration of Charles II. According to those in power, by 1689 the army had expanded to a force of 74,000 unruly and untrained “common men” who we now know probably weren’t volunteers at all. Perhaps suspecting that catchy ballads, inspirational drumming and the promise of non-existent bounty was unlikely to sustain the new recruits for long, in the same year Parliament introduced the Mutiny Act and made desertion punishable by death.
Discipline and obedience is the foundation of an army. Otherwise, the theory goes, your large majority of murderous soldiers, all traumatised by war, will not easily be managed by the minority of posh blokes with authority. Prior to 1689, regulations were in place to discourage insubordination and mutiny but during peace-time could only be dealt with under civil law. The Mutiny Act introduced a much clearer distinction between military and civilian law, although there were occasions when civilians travelling with the army were also sentenced under Martial Law.
Death was the most extreme penalty of all, with beheading apparently reserved only for the most aristocratic. This is surprising, as I’d always assumed that those who made it onto ThePeerage.com would prefer to be poisoned by sumptuous grapes or drowned in a pond of lilacs and flowers. For those of us who only make it onto Facebook.com, I’m afraid punishment of death was the less honourable death by shooting or rope.
For anyone who has watched Handmaidens, you will already have a good idea of 18th century military punishments, and only have to reimagine most of the scenes with men wearing red coats instead of capes – the ceremony is very similar. Troops would surround the prisoner in a semi-circle who would then be tied to a stake and blindfolded. After (hopefully) being told by the Chaplain that that all would be forgiven and they were definitely going to heaven, the execution party would fire, followed by a reserve party if the target was missed. In one case, a soldier was shot simply for grumbling about having to go on sentry duty – I wouldn’t have lasted long!
Very occasionally, punishment would be by fire. The records show that on one occasion in Flanders, during the Nine Years War, a French spy was apprehended after throwing a fire bomb into a wagon of explosives. In retaliation, he was burned slowly on a stake; a hideous and painful death.
The most terrifying punishment builds on the Roman punishment of decimation; death of a minority by chance. This was usually ordered when a large group were considered culpable but it wasn’t feasible for them all to be killed. For example, permission was sought in 1668 for several soldiers to “throw dice for their lives”, with the lowest score resulting in death. There were several other instances of dice being used for this purpose.
In another case recorded at a Court Martial in Flanders in 1694, several men were caught deserting their post and one was ordered to be executed. The remaining six had to draw lots, with two being executed, a scenario recorded several other times in the records. In our day and age when an abusive tweet or harsh word is considered a crime, it is difficult to imagine the horror and dread experienced by the men who were killed for deserting out of fear, and later, bad luck.
A hangover from medieval torture was the punishment of disablement or mutilation. The strappado is a form of torture in which the prisoner’s hands are tied behind their back and they are hoisted to the ceiling on a rope. In medieval times, they would then be dropped, bottom-first, onto a large spike. OUCH! In the army, the lucky devils were simply dropped to the ground, in a way that usually guaranteed a serious disability.
But it wasn’t just men who received corporal punishments. Whipping was a common chastisement and records reveal that civilian women also received this treatment. The amount of strokes, or stripes, depended on the crime, but often was based on the biblical “40 stripes save 1”, in other words, 39 strokes. There were, however, instances where the sentence was for much more. One story relates to a woman who was found guilty for inciting to mutiny. Her sentence was that she should be gagged and receive 50 lashes on her bare back, 10 at 5 different spots, and then to be sent away from the garrison on the first available ship. This wasn’t seen as enough, and she was also sentenced to being whipped all the way from the prison to the dock. In Ireland, another woman was sentenced to death for inciting troops to desert their post, something I would be likely to do at the first sight of blood!
Most of us have heard the saying “running the gauntlet” but I never knew the ruthlessness of its origin. The word Gatloup was used by the Roman Army, and is said to have derived from a Germanic word meaning “lane” and “run”. Essentially, as seen in the picture, the regiment would line up and form a lane of men, all of whom would hold a cudgel or other weapon. The prisoner would then have to run past them all, perhaps even a number of times, and be struck by each and every soldier. It was an officer’s duty to make sure all of the soldiers adequately attacked the prisoner, so by the end the poor man would be very badly beaten. By the Victorian times, the saying was already being used as a joke, perhaps signifying the lack of continued use as a punishment in the army.
Lesser sentences were also given for lesser crimes, for example, mutilation by branding, cutting off the ears or nose, or even temporary starvation. Another sentence was time spent on the “wooden horse”, a punishment designed to humiliate the offender, usually with physical pain by tying guns or weights to his or her legs, or making them face the backside which might have been used for an officer. All of these punishments were designed to deter others in a way that is less apparent in our sentencing system of “just deserts”, Under this philosophy, the sentence should be commensurate with the offence, and cannot be ordered as a deterrent to the wider community.
The life of an 18th century soldier was harsh and unrelentingly brutal. The wars of the Georgian period were less about freedom and more about power and wealth, so the hardships endured and the lives lost are difficult to justify.
When you next commemorate those who have fallen, take a moment to also remember the god-forsaken lives of the red-coated soldier in his thread-bare shirt:
Went to a tavern and I got drunk
That is where they found me
Back to barracks in chains I was sent
And there they did impound me.
Fifty (lashes) I got for selling me coat
Fifty I got for me blankets
If ever I ‘list for a soldier again
The devil will be my sergeant
The Oxford history of the British army (1996)
History of the British Standing Army (1894), Harrison & Sons, Walton, Clifford
Tried and Valiant (1972, Leo Cooper, Sutherland, Douglas
Delighted to welcome back Paul Martinovich who previously wrote the fascinating guest post ‘Who was Selina Cordelia St Charles?’ Today Paul’s back, with an equally fascinating post to share, so I’ll hand over to Paul to tell us more about Dr Richard Verity.
Richard Verity first came to my attention when I was researching my 3x great-grandfather, Robert Bellingham. In about 1815, Bellingham set up a partnership with Verity (both were surgeons and apothecaries) at 25 Bolton Street, Piccadilly. Nine years later the partnership was dissolved (by then Bellingham had moved to Bourne in Lincolnshire), though Verity kept the Piccadilly address for a number of years.
But Verity went on to greater things. He had been born at Bristol in 1788, though the family came from Cowbridge in Wales, and before that from Yorkshire. His father, Isaiah Verity, was a successful merchant who accumulated enough wealth to give Richard a medical education, including apprenticeship to a surgeon, William Salmon at Cowbridge, followed by a stint at Guys Hospital.
How the young Verity met Robert Bellingham is not clear, though the two men obviously aspired to a lucrative medical practice, based on their premises in fashionable Mayfair.
Richard Verity’s career soon became focused on attending to (and travelling with) some of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain, particularly that of William Cavendish, the sixth Duke of Devonshire.
The Duke was the son of Georgiana, the famous Duchess, and inherited the title on the death of his father in 1811.
His sister Harriet, Lady Granville, seems to have been the first member of the family to employ the young surgeon in 1820, at a time when he already had the reputation of being a very competent but expensive physician to the aristocracy. This was to be the beginning of a thirty-year connection between the doctor and the Cavendishes and their kin.
A couple of years later, Harriet recommended Verity to her brother to act as his travelling physician. The ‘Bachelor Duke’ was a frequent traveller, and like many of his class, felt more secure voyaging with a trusted British doctor in his suite, rather than relying on the doubtful ministrations of an unknown foreign medical man.
The Duke set out quite specific duties for his private physician, which suggest he regarded the role as also including elements of personal companion, and tour manager. For £50 a month (such journeys often lasted several months), the Duke required his physician to handle the day-to-day financial aspects of the tour, as well as monitor his patron’s health and deal with any medical emergencies of members of the travelling party, which usually numbered up to a dozen. The doctor was guaranteed to have his own carriage, but could not assume that he would be introduced at the courts the Duke visited, or dine with the Duke, unless the latter was dining at home.
Verity first travelled with the Duke in July of 1822 on a relatively brief trip to Paris.
On his return, the doctor soon established himself as a close and respected member of the Cavendish inner circle, consulted not just by the Duke, but his sisters Lady Granville and Georgiana Lady Carlisle, and their respective spouses. Lord Granville was the British ambassador to France from 1824 to 1841 (with one two-year interruption), and during some of that time Verity held the very desirable post of Physician to the British Embassy in Paris. He seems to have interpreted his role quite broadly, since he often advised the Granville’s on maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. When he was away, he even left instructions for Lady Granville to prepare doses of drugs for the embassy staff.
In fact the doctor travelled much of the time he was attached to the embassy. Often the journey was to escort the Granville children back and forth across the channel during summer holidays, or the Ambassador and his wife on restorative trips to spas and seaside resorts. He even found time in 1826 to accompany the Duke on a ceremonial trip to Russia, where the latter represented the British government at the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I. During this trip, he is said to have saved the life of the Hon. Robert Dundas, the secretary to the Duke, making a dash from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod to retrieve the very ill young man.
In 1820 Richard Verity had married Charlotte George, daughter of Sir Rupert George, a senior naval officer. She died in 1823 just a month after giving birth to a daughter, Charlotte Margaret Anne. By 1825 Verity must have been prospering, since he purchased an estate, Dean Lodge, at Kimbolton in Bedfordshire, a fitting seat for a man who mixed comfortably with some of the highest in the land. But some aspects of his personal life may not have been known to his aristocratic employers.
Between 1823 and 1828, he had three children with a woman named Martha Binning, of whom little is known, other than she lived in London and may have been a bonnet maker. Two of the children survived infancy, and Verity may have provided some support for his illegitimate offspring.
Throughout the 1830s and 40s, Verity was a fixture in the lives of the Duke and his relatives, and remained close to the Granvilles even after they left the embassy in 1845. He also gave medical and other advice to the Duchess of Manchester, who lived at Kimbolton Castle, just a few miles from Verity’s home at Dean Lodge.
In 1854, some years after the death of the Duchess, this friendship involved him in a nasty court action. Just before her death she had changed her will to ensure that her Irish estates (which she had brought to the marriage) went to her husband rather than her children. Verity had witnessed the authorization of the new will, even steadying her hand as she signed. However, this document was contested on the grounds that the Duke (with the doctor’s assistance) had illegally pressured the failing Duchess into signing the new document, when she was not of sufficiently sound mind to do so. After a long and very public trial, in which Verity was extensively cross-examined, the jury found for the Duke, and the revised will was validated.
By this time Richard Verity had retired, having handed over the bulk of his aristocratic practice to his nephew, Robert. The latter was a strong proponent of the new medical theory of homeopathy, an approach based on administering miniscule amounts of natural substances to the patient. Richard is also said to have adopted this approach at some point in his career, but if so, none of his patients mentioned it in their published letters.
His last years were spent either in London, at his house in Hastings, or at Dean Lodge in Bedfordshire where he died in 1857.
He was survived by his legitimate daughter Charlotte; his second wife, Susannah Bayntun, the daughter of Admiral Sir Henry William Bayntun, having died nearly 15 years earlier.
What this bare recital of his life does not convey is the man’s unusual personality. He must have had a winning bedside manner, since his patients seemed to trust him unreservedly, even when his prognostications proved wrong. He could be quite severe in his directions—Lady Granville writes that
We have begun a life that even the uncompromising, inflexible Verity smiles upon,
and much later when the family was visiting a spa, he insisted on her drinking the sulphurous water, despite its vile taste.
His mere presence seems to have reassured his patients: Lady Granville said in a letter to her sister:
Granville is very well, but it will be a great comfort to me to have that valuable creature [Verity] to look at us.
After Lord Granville had a mild stroke, the doctor was even persuaded to follow the Granvilles around on their peregrinations in France, taking the same roads in his carriage and staying in the same towns, but not actually travelling with the family group.
So Richard Verity seems to have negotiated his ambiguous status with some skill—family confidant, close to its members, yet still substantially lower in the social hierarchy than his aristocratic employers. And this was despite his strange personal behaviour, as described by the Duke of Devonshire, who said he was
the queerest man I ever saw, sometimes pleasant in society, but so absent and vain in his person & dress, gazing at himself in the glass [mirror] that I sometimes think he is cracked.
Reading between the lines, Verity may not have been an easy person to work with. He was probably demanding of both his colleagues and his patients, ambitious and self-centred. Yet considering the range of his friends and acquaintances, his story is worthy of a biographer.
Many of his papers are now housed at the Glamorgan Archives, awaiting the attention of some curious historian interested in the intersection of social and medical history in 19th-century Britain.
Betty Askwith, Piety and Wit: A Biography of Harriet Countess Granville 1785-1862, Collins, London, 1982
James Lees-Milne, ‘The Bachelor Duke’ A Life of William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire 1790-1858: John Murray, London, 1991
Hon. F. Leveson-Gower (ed): The Letters of Harriet Countess Granville 1810-1845, 2 vols, Longmans Green, London, 1894
Samuel Wale RA, 1721–1786, British, Guys Hospital, undated. Yale Center for British Art
I’m delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, the lovely Leonora Nattress to tell us more about her first book, Black Drop which certainly makes for a gripping read, with plenty of twists and turns throughout, but I won’t spoil it and will leave you with Leonora to tell you more, but I would highly recommend reading it and I look forward to the next instalment.
Leonora Nattrass studied eighteenth-century literature and politics, and spent ten years as an English Literature lecturer, including eight at Nottingham Trent University. During this time she published several works on William Cobbett, and was a reviewer for The Year’s Work in English Studies journal. She then moved to Cornwall, where she lives in a seventeenth-century house with seventeenth-century draughts, and spins the fleeces of her traditional Ryeland sheep into yarn. Black Drop is her first novel.
Laurence Jago, the hero of my historical mystery Black Drop, is a young Foreign Office clerk who finds himself caught up in the dramatic political events of 1794 as he attempts to solve the murder of a fellow clerk.
Laurence’s investigations take him all around London, from his lodgings opposite the rickety waxworks on Fleet Street, to the meetings of the Corresponding Society radicals in backstreet taverns, but the heart of the story is the old Foreign Office (FO) in Downing Street. I have always loved novels set in small worlds, and when it came into existence after a reorganisation of the old ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ Departments in 1782, the FO had only eleven members of staff, including the Secretary of State himself, and the cleaning or ‘Necessary’ woman.
In 1794 Cabinet meetings took place in a FO room with a fine carved fireplace, and at its table the fear of a copycat revolution in imitation of the French, drove the fierce Government clampdown on dissent, which is at the heart of my novel.
But accounts of the old building and its day-to-day business at first proved frustratingly elusive. The old building itself is long gone, replaced by the monstrous behemoth of the current Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was built between 1861 and 1868, and only a painting of Downing Street in the eighteenth century shows the square of handsome Georgian brick houses which once stood there, alongside a Number 10 as yet un-blackened by Victorian soot.
In the end, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Recollections of the Old Foreign Office by Sir Edward Hertslet, KBE, published in 1901. Though the author’s own tenure as librarian to the FO only began in 1840, his father had preceded him in the same post from 1801. This gives Hertslet marvellous second-hand knowledge of the place within a handful of years of my setting. The Foreign Office in Black Drop is based on this treasure trove of a book, and all the best and most delightful details come from Sir Edward’s memory, or his father’s.
The old Foreign Office stood in the left corner of Downing Street, looking down from Whitehall, and initially comprised two buildings thrown together into one rather inconvenient set of offices. ‘The most important rooms in the office were those assigned to the Secretary of State [and] the Private Secretary … on the first floor …’ whose windows looked into St James’s Park.
‘The walls of the Secretary of State’s room were hung around with fine old tapestry, a portion of which had been purposefully cut through on one side … to conceal a doorway that led into the Private Secretary’s room adjoining.’ In the Permanent Under-Secretary’s room, a hidden door was disguised ‘by imitation backs of books, handsomely bound, and inserted in the door, which gave it the appearance of forming part of the mahogany bookcase.’
The windows of the clerks’ rooms ‘looked either into the small “square” so-called, which formed a cul-de-sac at the end of Downing Street, or into Fludyer Street’, a back alley where ‘it was not an uncommon practice for the occupants of the upper rooms … to let down strings of red tape from the upper windows and haul up pottles of strawberries which they had purchased from fruit sellers in the street.’
One day, a mischievous young clerk in the attic ‘nursery’ dared another to cut the strings – an escapade that ended in a row and demands for reimbursement. Hertslet asks an elderly library messenger if he remembers this escapade. ‘Yes Sir, I remember it well … and didn’t we have a feast off those strawberries when they fell!’
It is marvellous to have pen portraits of the long-forgotten servants and clerks who worked under the Foreign Secretary, such as the old butler reduced, in Hertslet’s early days, to the task of lamplighter. ‘He was a very stout man, and being troubled with asthma, was so short-winded that when he went his daily rounds of the office to light the oil lamps in the various rooms in the winter months (for there was no gas in those days) it was painful to hear him panting for breath.’
We are well-enough acquainted with the pale and intense Pitt (‘accustomed to consume a quantity of port wine surprising in those days and incredible in these’ according to his Victorian biographer Lord Rosebery), the cuttingly satirical figure of George Canning, and the ‘broad-bottomed’ Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville beloved of the satirists in his turn, but it would be hard to match the drama of another supernumerary clerk, Mr George Lennox Conyngham who entered the FO in 1812 and spent his long career ‘hopping’ about the offices on a crutch and a walking stick, having met with a severe gun accident as a young man.
Riding on the outside of a coach bound for Cambridge, for a day’s shooting, with his accidentally-loaded gun leaning nonchalantly against his left leg, the inevitable happened. ‘He was at once removed from off the coach into the hotel where his leg was amputated near the hip joint. Some days later the surgeons discovered that it had not been cut off quite high enough, and Mr Conyngham submitted, with wonderful courage, to having another slice taken off …’ Tormented by rheumatism on rainy days, Hertslet recalls, Conyngham dulled the agony with large doses of opium.
These domestic details might make it easy to forget that the Foreign Office sat at the centre of a network of spies and informants, but Hertslet also catalogues the dangers faced by the King’s Messengers who brought news to the Foreign Secretary from all across war-torn Europe:
‘In September 1797 two messengers were drowned off Calais attempting to land at night in an open boat … In the same year another messenger was killed by a carriage accident near Augsburg … In 1807 another was stabbed by boatmen, who were conveying him along the coast of Sicily, and it was believed that he fell a sacrifice to a most heroic defence of his dispatches…’
Daring maritime escapades like these provided further brilliant inspiration when I came to write Black Drop’s sequel, Blue Water, which is set at sea and will come out in autumn 2022.
This is the confession of Laurence Jago. Clerk. Gentleman. Reluctant spy. July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Political radical Thomas Hardy is to go on trial for treason, the war against the French is not going in Britain’s favour, and negotiations with the independent American colonies are on a knife edge.
Laurence Jago – clerk to the Foreign Office – is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, which may lead to the destruction of the British Army, and Laurence is a suspect. Then he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide.
Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but even as the body is taken to the anatomists, Laurence is certain both of his friend’s innocence, and that he was murdered. But after years of hiding his own secrets from his powerful employers, and at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?
Black Drop was published by Viper Books on 14th October 2021
It’s always a pleasure to welcome new guest authors to All Things Georgian and today I’d like to welcome Robert N. Smith who tells us more about the day to day life in the north of England during the Georgian era and his analysis of the truly shocking murder of an elderly man in his home, in his latest, absolutely fascinating book, ‘A Horrid Deed‘.
Robert earned his PhD in History from the University of Georgia and also holds a master’s degree in History and his undergraduate degree was in Classics and Mediaeval History from the University of Edinburgh.
Robert’s interest in crime developed through his research into the death penalty in the United States of America, which led to his book ‘An Evil Day in Georgia‘ that was nominated for several awards.
A Horrid Deed is Robert’s fourth book and one that takes him back to a few miles from where he was born in Hexham, Northumberland. He now lives with his wife and two chinchillas in the west of Scotland.
“On the morning of 7 January 1826, a small gathering of people stood outside the cottage where Joseph Hedley, ‘Joe the Quilter’, had lived since the time of the American Rebellion. Concern etched their faces as they chatted and glanced around at their dreary surroundings. The recent snow had drained the landscape of its colour, leaving a few patches of green along the hedges and brown ruts in the lane where wagons had passed by. Along with the usual small-talk of country neighbours who had not seen each other in a while, they discussed how the reclusive man who lived in the cottage often left home for days at a time, so they probably had little need to worry about this latest absence. But this time felt different, and they sensed something was amiss; no one had seen or heard from Hedley for five days, not the local farmer’s wife who gave him food and milk when he called round, or his labourer friend who raised the alarm about the missing man. A pair of well-worn clogs discarded in a drift of snow on the other side of the lane opposite the cottage door heightened their sense of unease.”
Four days before the strange gathering, Joseph Hedley had answered a knock on the door of his isolated little cottage along a country lane near Hexham, Northumberland. He was never seen alive again.
The group that assembled the following Saturday broke in and found his mangled body discarded in a dark corner. An inquest was held, a policeman arrived from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to conduct an investigation, a reward of 100 guineas was offered for information leading to the capture of Hedley’s murderer, and the newspapers ran with the story for weeks. But despite rumours and conjecture, no one was ever convicted of the crime. Joe the Quilter’s murder remains officially unsolved.
But who was Joseph Hedley, how did he live, and why was he killed? In A Horrid Deed, I have tried to answer those questions while providing a flavour of what that world was like in the places we rarely see in history books.
Part I surveys the life of Joseph Hedley. Known as Joe the Quilter for his craftsmanship, Hedley lived in relative anonymity in the backwaters of Northumberland during a momentous period in history. Born in the wake of the Jacobite Rebellions, Hedley’s life followed the rhythms of childhood, apprenticeship, marriage, work, then inevitable decline. As he worked away on his quilts, the world underwent momentous changes, much of it with Britain at its centre. Indeed, this was the period of Britain’s true emergence onto the world stage as its empire stretched across the horizons in all directions. Yet even someone as isolated could feel the impact of that empire, from his cup of tea in the morning to the cotton he used on his quilts.
Quieter upheavals occurred closer to home in rural economics, industrial and urban development, and social change. This was the era of the Bloody Code, widespread Enclosures of farmland, Parish relief and Poor Houses, poachers and smugglers, industrial unrest, and the paranoia over fears of a French invasion.
Even the environment emphasized the vulnerability of the poor and unprotected as winter storms created havoc down the Tyne Valley where Hedley and his aging wife cowered in their cottage. Despite his skills as a quiltmaker, Hedley found himself at the wrong end of the emerging class system, dying in abject poverty, though his killer perhaps suspected otherwise.
Part II examines the crime. Hedley’s murder stood out for its brutality in brutal era. This assault on a frail, old man shocked England and still resonates. Authorities suspected a botched robbery committed by two assailants who believed Hedley was a wealthy man, but the investigators had very little tools at hand to track down the killers. Through a careful reconstruction of the crime (aided by the recreation of Hedley’s cottage at Beamish Museum), and deploying methods unavailable at the time, I argue that the answer lay under investigator’s noses all along and identify a suspect who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit this “horrid deed”.
You can find out more about Joe the Quilter in Robert’s book, which is available from Guardbridge Books and other book retailer.
Today it’s my pleasure to have Lynda O’Keeffe with us again. Following on from her previous post about the blind playwright, John O’Keeffe, today, she’s going to tell us the very moving and tragic story of his daughter, Adelaide’s life.
Introducing Miss Adelaide O’Keeffe, author, poet and amanuensis.
Adelaide was born in Eustace Street, Dublin on 5th November 1776 to the blind playwright John O’Keeffe and his actress wife Mary (née Heaphy). It is worth noting that Adelaide’s father was Catholic, and her mother Protestant as this union would have been difficult in a time when the outlawing of Catholicism was prevalent. Adelaide’s own religious practice is not known, which is even more interesting when considering two of her major works, Patriarchal Times, or The Land of Canaan (1811) and Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (1814); the latter portrayed Zenobia’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity and, in 1848, became the first work authored by a non-Jew to be reissued by the Jewish Publication Society of Philadelphia. No small feat!
Little is known of Adelaide O’Keeffe, other than her being the devoted daughter and amanuensis of her illustrious blind father. It is only through her work that we can grasp a tantalising glimpse of her character. Sadly, there are no paintings of her, only two descriptions – one by her father when she was a child, and the other by an acquaintance who visited her grave in the Extra-Mural Cemetery, Lewes Road, Brighton in 1865:
In person Miss O’Keeffe was petite, and in early life must have been extremely pretty: having bright blue eyes, sunny chestnut hair, and a most pleasing and expressive countenance. She was well known to many here, chiefly by the booksellers, and to the last dressed somewhat showily and young.
She was fond of impressing upon strangers that she was Miss O’Keeffe; and once told a friend of ours, “that she thought it wrong for aged unmarried ladies to be called ‘Mrs’. I always will insist upon being called ‘Miss;’ I am Miss O’Keeffe and am proud to wear the garland.”
Though from an early period she acted as amanuensis to her father, who suffered from partial blindness, her own taste for literary composition really arose from hearing read one evening Gesner’s Death of Abel. This made such an impression upon her that, before retiring to rest, she had arranged in her own mind the first four chapters of Patriarchal Times – perhaps the most popular of her works, it having gone through many editions. One of her subsequent works, The Broken Sword, was dedicated to the Prince of Wales. Many to whom her name was scarcely known have probably been familiar from childhood with her verses; for in the Original Poems by Jane and Anne Taylor (which are even now frequently reprinted) there are many bearing the signature of “Adelaide,” all of which were contributed by Miss O’Keeffe.
The most prominent trait in Miss O’Keeffe’s character was the warmth of her affections. Her love for her father, with whom she lived till his death (at Southampton, in 1833,) was entire, unselfish, and devoted; and almost all her first earnings were devoted to pay the debts of a deceased and dearly loved brother.
She outlived almost all of her friends; but there are some still living who retain the liveliest recollections of her genial and vivacious conversation. In changing her residence, Miss O’Keeffe always carried her father’s portrait about with her from place to place, – in loving remembrance of his memory and of her happy home; and she was much gratified when, about twelve months prior to her death, it was taken by the Government for the National Portrait Gallery and placed among those whom the country “has delighted to honour.”
From early childhood, Adelaide was destined not to have an easy life. However, her life experiences may have been the reasons for her pioneering work on the education of young minds, the importance of family, morals, belief in God and other meritorious topics.
In this brief article, the aim is to offer recognition and appreciation to an extraordinary female author, poet and amanuensis and to honour her own personal sacrifices in providing lifelong care for her disabled father.
In 1781, Adelaide’s parents separated as the result of an affair her mother had had with a Scottish actor called George Graham. Her father removed the children from the family home in Dublin and they decamped to London. Shortly after their arrival, an incident occurred whereby the children’s mother secretly visited the children. In the Memoir section of her father’s book of poetry entitled O’Keeffe’s Legacy to his Daughter, Adelaide describes her father’s fury at the visitation; Adelaide relives this pivotal moment:
On hearing that their poor mother had visited both at night, and clasped them in her arms, and shed tears over them, the bursting tears of grief and remorse, he suddenly, at a moment’s warning, inflamed with jealousy, the master passion of his mind, (that infirmity of the best hearts and noblest natures) sent them to France.
So, to Adelaide’s horror, she was sent to a convent in the French countryside whilst her brother, Tottenham, was sent to the Collège du Plessis in Paris. One can only imagine the feelings of the five-year-old Adelaide being taken from her home, separated from her parents and brother, and placed in a convent in a foreign land. For nearly eight years Adelaide and her brother remained in France, until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, which facilitated their return to London and the home of their father.
It is worth mentioning here that Adelaide attended the Catholic convent Sainte-Austreberthe, Montreuil, in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France. Her education would have been like that of her Protestant peers in English grammar schools, with the focus on Latin and the Classics. However, there was one big difference – Catholic children did their learning in the context of a fully functioning religious community, observing and absorbing religious practices that had been outlawed in England.
Adelaide was twelve when she returned from France, and soon after she began working as an amanuensis to her blind father, who was then at the height of his fame. In her own words, she describes the love and care given by her father when she was an infant and proclaims:
These early remembrances laid the foundation of that devoted attachment, which, from her childhood to his lamented death, never forsook. She never experienced a mother’s care, she never knew the kindness of female relatives; her father was her first object of love, and when away from him, her brother her only protector. Be it here remarked under the solemnity of a sacred protestation, whatever the world thought to the contrary, that neither son or daughter ever voluntarily quitted their beloved, their near sightless, and sometime unhappy father.
The work that Adelaide embarked on with her father was unrelenting as he was a prolific writer, and being blind, always needed someone to be ‘at my elbow with a pen’. With the skills she obtained from the many years of working with her eminent father, Adelaide was the first writer to turn schoolroom text into dramatic dialogues, using stage-writing techniques to convey information via dialogue and not exposition. In these dramatic dialogues, she required the children not just to memorise the texts, but also to perform them, which required physical action and further compounded the learning. As an aside, recent research has identified the linking of movement to learning – Adelaide was ahead of her time in discovering this.
It has been suggested that Adelaide was intermittently employed as a governess, thus providing her with the necessary skills to take part in the educational movement of the Enlightenment period. During this time, it was thought that a child’s mind could be best reached through the body and that human understanding comes from experience, and experience comes through sensation and reflection – this was known as rationalist education.
In 1819, Adelaide authored the first verse novel for children, A Trip to the Coast. This small book of 160 pages contains poems each linked by a narrative, whereby the children find objects on their rambles and share them with their parents, describing each item in detail. The preface, gives us an intimate insight into Adelaide’s character and intentions, notes:
The Author of the following little poems has endeavoured, by their extreme simplicity, to adapt sea-subjects to the most juvenile comprehension…
The object of this little work is rather to excite curiosity than to gratify it: its design is to lead children to think, to seek, to enquire, to read, and to exert those faculties of mind, and powers of body, which often are more brilliant and effectual, than without exertion, they themselves, or those around them, are aware of.
Each short poem is no more than ten verses long, and the whole are interlinked as a novel starting from when the family begin their journey to the coast. Throughout all the poems, there is a constant interaction between the parents and the children, encouraging the children to use their reasoning powers on given occasions. In addition, there are activities connected to moral and natural history lessons throughout. Adelaide’s method of education was not to be condescending, but for children to be an integral component of their learning, offering them the capacity for self-reflection and conscious decision making.
In total, Adelaide penned fourteen books between 1799 and 1854.
In 1833, John O’Keeffe died, and Adelaide was consumed with grief at the loss of her beloved father. Money was short and she was forced to move to smaller lodgings in Southampton and resort to auctioning furniture and books to raise funds. Now fifty-seven years of age, Adelaide found herself alone in the world with little financial security. She had sacrificed her life to care for her father and had never married, although it has been reported that, at the age of eighty years, she confided, ‘she was actually engaged to be married, when her blind father so earnestly craved her undivided time and attention, that she gave it up, and devoted herself entirely to his comforts for the remainder of his life’. In 1834, she was named as Editor on her father’s final publication, a collection of poems entitled O’Keeffe’s Legacy to his Daughter.
From here on, information becomes sparse as Adelaide embarks on an itinerant life moving from Southampton to Ryde, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Hampton Court and Brighton. We know she continued writing as she published two pieces in 1848 and 1854, and she may have been employed as a governess to subsidise her meagre living. We also know that, shortly after her father’s death, she appealed to the beneficence of the Royal Literary Fund and received £25, she was then awarded a pension from the Crown of £50, and Prince Albert personally sent her £5. Three years later, she appealed again to the Royal Literary Fund and received a further £15, which she saw as inadequate and not conducive to financial planning. By 1856, at the age of eighty years and despite her pension income, Adelaide was reduced to contemplating the last item of value to sell, a Shakespeare’s First Folio edition.
It is here that one’s heart must be touched by the hardships experienced by an unmarried female author in the 18th century. One of Adelaide’s friends appealed to the better nature of the Royal Literary Fund when he wrote to them: ‘Poor old lady, I wish she had someone to repay her in kind for her selfless generosity to her father. But, at least, I would gladly know she was not stinted in her little comforts.’ Among these little comforts, he included a fire. He continued: ‘if your excellent Society will help her once more, I shall feel very grateful; and at eighty years old, you need not fear many, if any, repetitions of her importunity.’ The appeal fell on stony ground, and nothing was given.
Adelaide’s portfolio of work emphasises her firm belief that the young were the world’s future and that, with careful nurturing and education, a brighter life and world could be achieved. Her work is, therefore, as relevant today as it was in the 1800s. She struggled for recognition as a female author, but still made efforts to aid the emancipation of women, whilst in her personal life, her love and devotion to her father was unsurpassable.
Adelaide died destitute in 1865 aged ninety, a boarder in a lodging house in Brighton. Her death certificate records her occupation as: Authoress, daughter of John O’Keeffe (Dramatist).
Listed below are the titles of Adelaide O’Keeffe’s works:
Today I’d like to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian – Jordan Baker. Jordan holds a BA and MA in History from North Carolina State University. He is a lover of all things historical and concentrates his research and writing on the history of the Atlantic World. He also blogs about history and can be found at eastindiabloggingco.com.
The coming of the American revolution was a matter of great interest for the people back home in Britain. And, as with anything that proves interesting, the revolution was the subject of many different opinions. Across the country, the British weighed in on economics, military success and failures, the morality of the revolution, and more, through the press and private correspondence. As the British enjoyed one of the freest press systems in the world, not everyone felt obliged to speak out on behalf of His Majesty or the policies of Parliament. Mix all these ingredients together and you get some colourful, eighteenth-century commentary.
One of the most nagging questions for people in Britain during the American Revolution was what would happen to their investments and trade deals in the colonies. Merchants, nobility, and other well-to-do British subjects had millions of pounds invested in land holdings and trade deals in the colonies that now claimed independence. And, what was worse for these titans of finance, the revolutionary governments had seized all lands and property owned by loyalists.
As the Oxford Gazette put it in 1774,
‘The consequences of an American War to England will be estates in houses selling for nothing; in land high; money very scarce, and public credit low; no debts paying; no trade stirring.‘
This rather foreboding view of the war’s potential to wreak havoc on the British economy caused some to side with the Americans. In 1775, a group of merchants from Bristol wrote to the king, expressing their desire for an end to the conflict, lest trade be irrevocably damaged.
‘We can foresee no good effects to the commerce or revenues of this kingdom at a future period from any victories which may be obtained by your majesty’s army over desolated provinces and […] people.’
While some merchants felt that British trade could continue to prosper even if the rebelling colonies were given independence, others within the realm felt defeat would spell the beginning of the end for the empire. In 1776, one pamphlet writer, fortuitously forgetting about Britain’s holdings in Canada, the Caribbean, and India, insisted that losing America would be tantamount to “inclosing [sic] us within the confined seas of England, Ireland, and Scotland.”
Samuel Johnson and the Political Argument Against the Revolution
A leading voice of the opposition, British writer and political philosopher Samuel Johnson published his scathing opinions in his 1774 treatise, Taxation no Tyranny. To begin this work, Johnson gave a nod to the economic arguments that dominated the early days of the revolution, weighing in with his opinion:
‘That our commerce with America is profitable, however less than ostentatious or deceitful estimates have made it, and that it is our interest to preserve it, has never been denied; but, surely, it will most effectually be preserved, by being kept always in our own power. Concessions may promote it for a moment, but superiority only can ensure its continuance.’
The crux of Johnson’s argument, though, was the American colonies had no right to rebel and that their protests over taxation and lack of representation were unfounded. When Americans, or their ancestors, had left the island of Britain where they enjoyed representation in Parliament to seek land ownership or other opportunities in the New World they had given up their representation in the government of the empire.
‘he who goes voluntarily to America, cannot complain of losing what he leaves in Europe.‘
Additionally, since the British government protected these colonists, most recently during the French and Indian War, it had the right to tax them in order to afford to offer such protection.
Finally, as the final point in his argument, Johnson delved into the moral questions of the revolution. Penning one of the most scathing retorts to the American Revolution, a sentiment that still gets brought during discussion of the revolution, Johnson argued:
‘We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties; an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?‘
Hot off the Press
Much of what we know regarding how British citizens across the Atlantic viewed and thought of the American Revolution comes from the copious amounts of coverage it received in the British press, between both newspapers and more editorialized pamphlets. Given that the revolution was the biggest news of the day, newspapers felt obliged to print articles on the happenings in America, lest they lose their readership and their profits.
While some publishers sympathized with the Americans, calling them the “chosen people” of the New World and proclaiming George Washington “a man of sense and great integrity,” most publications took a more negative view of the revolution. Indeed, in Britain many viewed the American Revolution as a civil war with their American cousins. Throughout the war, many newspapers throughout Britain stoked the flames of this opinion. “It is very melancholy to think that we must sacrifice so many brave lives, in order to put an end, to such an unnatural Rebellion,” G.B Brunell, a citizen of London, wrote in December 1776.
During the last few years of the war, the British press became flooded with stories of how Loyalists suffered at the hands of Patriots, prompting them to flee to Canada and the Floridas, and articles claiming that a dissatisfaction with the new state governments widely existed in
America. Such stories led many Britons to doubt the ability of the United States to properly govern its own people, let alone do business with other nations. If a nation was born of the “criminal enterprise” of rebellion, could it ever really be trusted?
While Britons expressed a wide array of opinions on the American Revolution, a general sentiment of imperial anxiety runs through most of these thoughts. Whether those in Britain opposed or sympathized with the revolution, most of the thoughts written on the subject dealt with the effects on the empire’s economy, the morality of rebelling against one’s sovereign, and fears of the empire’s collapse.
John Trumbull, American, 1756–1843 Yale University Art Gallery
The word molly appears in many Georgian era historical fictions as, more or less, a synonym for the modern terms “gay” or “homosexual.” The popular reference book by Francis Grose, 1811’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, includes it with the definition: A Miss Molly; an effeminate fellow, a sodomite. It seems of course, that this should point to it as a word appropriate to the 1810s. However, it must be noted that this book was a reprint of a title originally released in 1785, and that even in the first edition, many of the slang terms were outdated in common language. (Take the entries of Oliver’s Skull and Olli-Compolli, which both seem to be sourced from a 1699 Dictionary of the Canting Crew.)
While even today we have some slang terms that have lasted 90 years or more, such as “the bee’s knees” (ca. 1923) or “bimbo” (floozie sense, ca. 1920) these are, at the same time, not indicative of words used in fashionable speech or slang. They should be employed with caution by an inexperienced English speaker, since they can easily make one sound strange or childish.
Molly was one of these words that had been in use for quite a long time by the Regency era. The Woman in Breeches Broadsheet of circa 1695, quoted above, is the oldest certain use of it I have been able to locate. The term is most probably an alteration of the Latin word mollis, which would have been a word known to educated men through its use in Livy, Cicero and other classical writers. Literally meaning “soft” the term mollis designated a certain type of man who was very effeminate and thus implied homosexual. It also appeared in the Latin vulgate version of the Bible to translate certain passages about fornicators and homosexuals, and it is probably through this that it entered the underworld slang. (Do not doubt, a quick look through those old slang dictionaries will show a good deal of Biblical and Ecclesiastical references.) The words popularity was probably enhanced by its coincidental similarity to the name Molly, which was often used as a generic name for a floozy type of girl in songs and poems.
A text of 1709 by one Ned Ward, reporting on a “Mollies Club” in London, defines a molly for readers unfamiliar with the term:
“Sodomitical Wretches […] so far degenerated from all masculine Deportment, or manly Exercises, that they rather fancy themselves Women, imitating all the little Vanities that Custom has reconcil’d to the Female Sex, affecting to Speak, Walk, Tattle, Cursy, Cry, Scold, and to mimick all Manner of Effeminacy, that ever has fallen within their several Observations; not omitting the Indecencies of Lewd Women, that they may tempt one another by such immodest Freedoms to commit those odious Bestialities [i.e. behaviours unbecoming mankind], that ought for ever to be without a Name.”
In addition to a noun, it seems to molly was also employed as a verb. From a 1726 court case we have:
“they look’d a-skew upon Mark Partridge, and call’d him a treacherous, blowing-up Mollying Bitch.”
In another case of 1744 we have:
“James Ruggles, who had followed them at a Distance, and waited only till he saw them closely engaged, came up to them, and seizing upon the Gentleman, cry’d, D – n your Blood you Dog, what are you a Mollying one another? Give me what you have this Minute, or I will carry your directly to the Guard-Room. The Gentleman, confounded and frightened almost out of his Wits, made answer, […] but C – soon silenced him, by crying out, indeed he seduced me hither to Molly me.”
The subject not being a topic often discussed in polite literature, much of the information we have about the use of the word molly comes from old court cases. To judge from the records, the term peaked in the 1720s through 1740s, then is seen less and less through the 18th century until disappearing almost entirely after the 1770s. In fact, the only post-1770 use of the term in its homosexual sense which I have seen as of this writing is, you guessed it, Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
So, what wiped out the word ‘molly‘? To some extent the rival term madge seems it may have supplanted it in slang. Nevertheless, an increased prudishness about sexual talk through the 18th century may be also a culprit. (A personal story on this: I once was editing an edition of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, initially using a first edition text; but finding some missing page or such issue that required checking another copy, I looked to an edition from 1800. The 1800 edition had needed to cut a lot of sexual references in the dialogue to make it acceptable for public performance. It was quite heavily trimmed compared to the original.) By the early 19th century, a term “mollycoddle” meaning a weak or effete man is able to appear in print with perfect respectability, indicating the sexual suggestion in the word was lost — compare the term “weakling” which too originally had a sexual implication.
The term molly does seem to have a more effeminate connotation about it than the modern term gay, but that might simply be due to gay culture in a modern understanding, not yet existing. Words like sissy or faggot might better replicate the abusiveness of the term.
This week I am delighted to welcome another guest to All Things Georgian. Today’s guest is Alice McVeigh, a London ghost writer and professional cellist, who has spent over fifteen years performing with orchestras including the BBC Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic.
Her first two novels were published to acclaim by Orion, marketed as ‘The secret life of a symphony orchestra’. Her latest book, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel, was released just a couple of weeks ago and has already been rated 10 stars out of 10 by Publishers Weekly’s BookLife Prize.
With that introduction, I’ll hand over to Alice to tell you more about her new book and the music in the era of Jane Austen.
As Lady Catherine de Bourgh decrees in my own new novel:
‘In my opinion, every gentlewoman should be able to ride, to embroider, and to play tolerably on the pianoforte. To play too well on the pianoforte, however, might be considered vulgar.’
Music features in all Jane Austen’s works – one recalls Mary Crawford’s entrancing harp, Marianne Dashwood’s ‘magnificent concerto’ – the one enabling Elinor and Lucy Steele to speak without being overheard – not to mention Jane Fairfax’s effortlessly superior performances in Emma.
On a less-exalted level, everyone remembers the Pride and Prejudice scene in which Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Mary tests the patience of the company to exhaustion-point. While Austen’s Lady Susan wrote of her daughter:
‘I want her to play and sing with some portion of taste and a good deal of assurance, as she has my hand and arm and a tolerable voice. I was so much indulged in my infant years that I was never obliged to attend to anything, and consequently am without the accomplishments which are now necessary to finish a pretty woman.’
Music, drawing etc. – even foreign languages, to some degree – were often regarded in such a manner: not as a means of personal enjoyment or as an artistic end in themselves, but as props deployed to display the daughters of the house to greatest advantage. Brides apparently often abandoned music upon marriage – it’s impossible not to imagine with some level of relief. (As Mrs Elton observed sententiously to Emma Woodhouse, “… for married women, you know–there is a sad story against them, in general. They are but too apt to give up music.”)
As for the London music masters, most were barely scraping a living. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them. And yet, without teaching young ladies (more occasionally, young gentlemen) these music masters’ finances would have been rocky indeed. Beethoven himself was obliged to teach young Hungarian countesses, with whom he was – being Beethoven – occasionally presumptuous enough to fall in love… (One such instance was explored in Jessica Duchen’s novel Immortal, based on Beethoven’s famous letter to his “Immortal beloved…”)
In my own Jane Austen prequel,there is the following exchange between the sharp-elbowed Susan and her erstwhile music master.
Still accompanying another young lady, he said, very softly, without troubling to look up, ‘And so, Miss Smithson, we were betrayed.’
‘I did nothing wrong, yet it was I who was sent away.’
He glanced up then, with that strangely attractive smile – the smile that had first persuaded her that he was not, in fact, so very plain. As his fingers moved over the ivory keys, he asked, ‘And do you regret your expulsion, Miss Smithson?’
‘I do not.’
‘Of course not, for you were no more allowed to be your true self in that place than Mrs Ansruther’s spaniel… I presume that you do not wish to exhibit?’
‘Not in the least.’
‘Then I will shield you. But I beg, once you come into your kingdom, that you remember me.’
Flustered, Susan longed to say that she was in no need of shielding, but she did not dare. As for remembering him ‘once she came into her kingdom,’ she understood the implied compliment – that she might become a person of influence. She understood too the sadness in his tone, though only moments later he was light-heartedly castigating another of his charges. (‘My dear Miss Drayton, be so good as to count your rests!’) But he was true to his word, and, when the cry went up for more young lady performers and ‘Miss Smithson’ was named, Mr Maggini said, ‘Nay, for she has injured her finger. Miss Clara, perhaps you might charm us with an air?’
In terms of instruments, the pianoforte and voice were most often preferred, but the harp was considered ladylike, and there were isolated cases of the violin being chosen – though the instrument possessed connotations of devilishness, and its shape seemed too suggestive for some.
Another alternative was the newly designed harp-lute, whose inventor, Edward Light, taught it to Princess Charlotte, and paid for its production. There was quite a vogue for the harp-lute during the Regency period. These apparently sounded rather harp-like (and, presumably, lute-ish) but were delicate, decorative and small enough to hold on one’s lap.
And then there was the repertoire.
Unpretentious little tunes – such as ‘Robin Adair’ – the song Frank Churchill teased Miss Fairfax about in Emma – were generally favoured over more earnest and difficult works. In Susan, I have Miss Caroline Johnson – a good-natured young heiress – struggling woefully with a sonata by Dussek:
Thus, Susan was at least partly prepared, after supper, to find Frank Churchill proposing that they stroll to her favourite spot, as Caroline was rashly embarking on her Dussek sonata.
They left, pursued by the sound of fingers falling with dogged persistence on ivory keys. Once outside, he added, ‘I am grateful. Otherwise, the Dussek might have been the death of me!’
‘I’m sure I should play it no better. Rather worse if anything.’
‘You would have the very good sense not to play it at all.’
‘I suppose it to be rather a compliment – Were the Cuthbert’s here, Miss Johnson would have confined herself to her well-trodden songs and airs.’
‘If so, it is a compliment I could willingly dispense with. I would rather hear young Miss Laura at her scales!’ They paused, to admire the scudding clouds in the half-light, then he said, ‘Miss Smithson, I asked you a question yesterday that you were denied the chance to answer. I asked whether you might one day like me better than “well enough”.’
Susan laughed. ‘Oh, that must be evident to everybody! Why, at this very moment, we are probably the talk of the place!’
Susan, however, used music to her own advantage – particularly when Lady Catherine requests that she read to her:
Now Susan had a low, pretty voice and natural discretion in the use of it. Lady Catherine had only once to object that she spoke too low for her to discover the pace and pitch most grateful to her ear. Of course, the book was wearisome, and the room overheated, but she read until she noticed her ladyship nodding off – at which she could not wonder – then she scraped the heel of her boot upon the floor.
Lady Catherine started, saying, ‘Nay, I was not asleep. You should take care not to sink your tone at the end of a section, Miss Smithson. Now, be so good as to play to me upon the pianoforte.’
Susan seated herself at the instrument, recalling an early work by Corri, which she had recently memorised. Lady Catherine beat time with her forefinger throughout and at its conclusion announced that she had always been devoted to Haydn. But when Susan enquired whether she might like another air, she said, ‘No. You may go, Miss Smithson – but come tomorrow at half-past two, to read to me again.’
Susan, hiding her dancing eyes, promised to attend her with the greatest pleasure…
As a professional cellist myself, I grieve that the cello was considered insufficiently decorous for a lady in the early 1800s. Worse, women were not allowed to perform in orchestras, whichever instrument they chose, though Austen does hint in Emma that Jane Fairfax’s unusual musical brilliance might have made her even more employable as a governess…
It’s a terrible thought: the elegant Miss Fairfax toiling over Miss Sophia’s pianoforte studies and Miss Maria’s vocal scales…
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.
It’s always lovely to welcome guests to All Things Georgian and today I’m welcoming back the author, erAto who writes historic 18th century fiction, who will share with us information about 18th century songs.
My Exenchester Series is a dark and lurid take on the Georgian Era. In a world inspired by Old Bailey transcripts and by unusual authors like Thomas de Quincey, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Marquis de Sade, sex, crime and death are lurking everywhere.
The series consists of two novels and a short story. Within their haunting plotlines there is also a connection to another topic of 18th century interest: popular music. Some might think that this is an odd combination — gritty gothic noir and Georgian era songs — but let us take a look at the music of the Exenchester series and see how this all aligns.
STEPS OF THE MALEFACTOR & DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
Gothic horror meets splatterpunk in Steps of the Malefactor. Giving the backstory of Francis Exenchester via his relationship with footman William Roxby, these two young men find themselves caught up in a “knot” of sex offenders. During what is likely the story’s most brutal scene, one character, Blore, spontaneously bursts into song: Down Among the Dead Men.
Here’s a health to the King and a lasting peace
To faction an end, to wealth increase.
Come, let us drink it while we have breath,
For there’s no drinking after death.
And he that will this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
Let charming beauty’s health go round,
With whom celestial joys are found.
And may confusion yet pursue,
That selfish woman-hating crew.
And he who’d woman’s health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
In smiling Bacchus’ joys I’ll roll,
Deny no pleasure to my soul.
Let Bacchus’ health round briskly move,
For Bacchus is a friend to Love;
And they that would this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
May love and wine their rights maintain,
And their united pleasures reign.
While Bacchus’ treasure crowns the board,
We’ll sing the joy that both afford.
And they that won’t with us comply,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let them lie!
Charles Mackay, in his collection of English folk songs, notes that this song’s composition is attributed to a “Mr. Dyer” (posited by some to be John Dyer) and said to have been first performed at the theatre at Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields.
The first publication is said to be from 1728 in a book called The Dancing Master, though it also appears in a slightly different, crasser form, in Scottish author Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany around the same time.
A circa 1740 broadside has yet another variant, and even crasser than Ramsay’s. The nature of folk songs means the tunes and lyrics are a bit unstable, for there was a time when one couldn’t rely on a recording to play the song back identically ad infinitum.
These old folk tunes tended to be communicated orally; and the transmission relies on the memory of the performer and on said performer’s own artistic take on the song. So it was that popular songs lived and mutated as they were passed along.
Best known as a drinking song, ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ has an implication in its lyrics of a person who is “dead drunk” — and this sometimes guessed to be the meaning of the “dead men” in the song.
Nevertheless, the patriotic note to the lyrics does suggest real animosity may be intended towards those who won’t drink to the King and Queen. It actually has a feel of the 17th century “Rump Songs” about it, and if it was already being collected by Ramsay as a folk song in the 1720s, the John Dyer attribution seems unlikely (or at least, it was not by the famous John Dyer who was born in 1699).
In the mirthful drama Molly Brazen, Annabelle the sex worker is baffled by the behavior and appearance of her young client, who seems to not actually want to have any sex; and as she interrogates him to discover his reasons why, his answers just get weirder and weirder.
The story was written as a promo piece for The Virgin and the Bull, but hints at many events from the then-to-be-written Steps of the Malefactor.
Technically, Molly Brazen contains no songs. However, the title of the story is reference to a sex worker character from The Beggar’s Opera, as well as a play on the old word for a homosexual (strictly speaking, mollyis the 18th century equivalent of sissy).
As with all songs from The Beggar’s Opera, author John Gay wrote the lyrics himself, but set them to an existing melody. In this case the song used was merely called “cotillion” — perhaps just an instrumental dance piece for which he created words. In the surrounding dialogue it’s referred to as a “French tune.”
The setting for this performance in The Beggar’s Opera is in a whorehouse, as is too the entire story Molly Brazen. There is consequently a bit of irony in its verses on fleeting love and hurrying to “drink and sport” as, like waiters at a restaurant table, the whores surely want to move along to their next client.
THE VIRGIN AND THE BULL & SWEET WILLIAM
Though a man of science, hero Charles Macgregor shows a great interest in poetry and literature, which proves to be what binds him to the gorgeous but troublesome Constance Fawkes. The tragic noir romance of The Virgin and the Bull opens with Macgregor’s suicide note, in which he quotes some lines from a song that is stuck in his head as he prepares himself for death.
Macgregor’s tune is a version of a song known variously as Sweet William, Sweet William’s Ghost, Lady Margaret, My Willie-O, Lament of the Border Widow, or simply nowadays as Child Ballad 77.
Francis James Child has seven versions of Sweet William in his original collection of popular ballads (of which it is the 77th entry). Some versions of this song are more or less cheerful in content, some have a more or less Scottish dialect to them, some are longer or shorter, some particular details get changed, but there is typically something consistent enough to make it a recognizable version of a single song. The Sweet William songs involve a woman (often called Margaret) receiving a visit from the ghost of her lover (usually called William or Willie) who has died while away from her. William’s promise to marry Margaret has gone unfulfilled, and he either wishes to fulfil the promise or be freed from it, so he may rest in peace.
Child’s oldest version of the ballad dates to 1740, via a later edition of Allan Ramsay’s Tea Table Miscellany.
However, in Child’s introduction he speculates it’s a variant of a song he can trace to 17th century in Scandinavian sources. The Virgin and the Bull’s Charles Macgregor uses a version similar to that found in Jamieson’s Popular Ballads of 1806 (though in which version the tragic hero is named “Clerk Saunders”).
When seven years were come and gane,
Lady Margaret she thought lang;
And she is up to the hichest tower,
By the lee licht o the moon.
She was lookin oer her castle high,
To see what she might fa,
And there she saw a grieved ghost,
Comin waukin oer the wa.
‘O are ye a man of mean,’ she says,
‘Seekin ony o my meat?
Or are you a rank robber,
Come in my bower to break?’
‘O I’m Clerk Saunders, your true-love,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your meikle pride,
Sae will become of thee.’
‘Gin ye be Clerk Saunders, my true-love,
This meikle marvels me;
O wherein is your bonny arms,
That wont to embrace me?’
‘By worms they’re eaten, in mools they’re rotten,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your mickle pride,
Sae will become o thee.’
‘O, bonny, bonny sang the bird,
Sat on the coil o hay;
But dowie, dowie was the maid
That followd the corpse o clay.
‘Is there ony room at your head, Saunders?
Is there ony room at your feet?
Is there ony room at your twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep?’
‘There is nae room at my head, Margaret,
As little at my feet;
There is nae room at my twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep.
‘But gae hame, gae hame now, May Margaret,
Gae hame and sew your seam;
For if ye were laid in your weel made bed,
Your days will nae be lang.’
In my book, Macgregor, of course, is feeling many of the song’s visions of graves and rotting corpses as he quotes from it; and surely, he’s also experiencing his own shock and betrayal at a broken promise of marriage, leading to this chilling tune churning amongst his final thoughts.
In Steps of the Malefactor, the character of Garcifer also makes a verbal reference to this song, addressing William Roxby as “Sweet William” while threatening to torture him (implying that he’s already marked for death).
These are all popular tunes of the 18th century (as opposed to art songs, such as the operatic tunes of Handel, Arne and others that are intended for a trained voice and large orchestra) and would have probably been known and heard comparably to modern multi-decade standards like Tubthumping, Holiday and Major Tom. It is nevertheless interesting to note the preoccupation with death and mortality in these songs, even in the cheerful one. In a sense, these songs reflect the darkness that existed within the Enlightenment, which was also rather the goal of the Exenchester series.
Jo has been an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life. Her credits range from the recent ‘Manhunt‘, starring Martin Clunes, to ‘Birds of a Feather’ and has now ventured in writing. This is her first book and she’s now busy working on her second – also a historical biography. Jo is married with a daughter, a son and a step-son. She lives in London and Dorset. You can find out more about Jo by clicking on the link at the end.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her husband Edward had two children – confusingly called Edward and Mary. Lady Mary’s two children had starkly contrasting lives and their mother’s relationship with both of them, though loving, was often stormy. Even in her lifetime she was sensitive to criticism that she was that dreaded thing: a bad mother.
Lady Mary is most famous for her contribution to the fight against smallpox. Both her children were involved. She inoculated her son Edward, aged nearly 5, while the family were living in Turkey in 1718. But this was common practice in Turkey at the time and Lady Mary was simply following in the footsteps of another Englishman, Sir Robert Sutton.
Her ground-breaking decision was to inoculate her only daughter, young Mary, aged 3, once the family were back in England. So young Mary became the first person in the west to be given protection against the smallpox. Young Mary was educated at home. She enjoyed putting on theatrical productions. Her mother, rather disloyally, described her as plain.
Lady Mary and Wortley set about finding a suitable husband for young Mary, once she reached the age of 18, as was the custom. They themselves had eloped, but they clearly wanted something more respectable for their daughter. Young Mary met a Scottish nobleman, John Stuart, Earl of Bute, in 1735, who also liked acting. The two fell in love but her parents were unhappy with the match. Lady Mary made the mistake of telling her daughter what she thought of Bute. He was honest, she said, but hot-tempered. She would prefer young Mary to remain single. Needless to say, this did not go down well. The marriage nevertheless went ahead but without a formal wedding reception.
The couple were exceptionally happy together and had eleven children. They initially lived at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, where Young Mary grew lonely and depressed. Her mother – who was herself living far away by now, in France and Italy – worried about her. The two had quarrelled – we don’t know why – at the point when Lady Mary decided to leave her husband and live abroad. Very gradually their letters trace an improved relationship. Eventually, nearly 20 years later, Lady Mary was at a concert in Venice when someone told her how beautifully her daughter sang, and she burst into uncontrollable tears.
The Butes had meanwhile moved to London. Here, Bute became great friends with Frederick, Prince of Wales, and when the Prince died his widow, Princess Augusta, made him tutor to their oldest son. When this son then inherited the throne as George III he manoeuvred to have his former tutor made Prime Minister. Unfounded rumours abounded that Bute was having an affair with Princess Augusta. When the elderly Lady Mary arrived back in London at the time of Bute’s premiership, her daughter and son-in-law found her an eccentric embarrassment. On her death, they buried her quickly, to avoid controversy.
Lady Mary’s only son, Edward Wortley Montagu, could not have been more different from his goody goody sister. He caused his parents heart-ache from the start. He accompanied his parents in their carriage all the way from London to Constantinople, and a love of the East remained with him all his life. Back home in England, though, he was sent to Westminster School, which he hated. He ran away, swapping clothes with an urchin in Whitechapel and getting a job as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Gibraltar. He was missing for five months and his mother wrote that: ‘Nothing that ever happened to me has touched me so much.’ My own instinct – although there is no evidence to support this – is that Edward was probably abused around this time.
His parents, unsure what to do with him, gave Edward a series of tutors and sent him off to the West Indies. When he returned, aged 17, he provoked controversy by marrying a washerwoman and then immediately abandoning her. He was sent abroad again, with a new tutor, where he went through a period of religious fanaticism and began drinking heavily. His father avoided having any direct contact with him, but Edward did have a stormy meeting with his mother in London, where he demanded more money. He was already heavily in debt.
In 1741 Lady Mary – now living in France – received a letter from her son, asking for her help in dissolving his marriage so he could find an heiress to marry instead. Mary was sceptical but Wortley pressurised her to meet him. Eventually the two did spend a couple of days together in a village near Avignon. Edward, aged 29, had lost his looks and put on weight, Mary wrote to his father and ‘He has a flattering, insinuating manner which naturally prejudices strangers’. Things went relatively well until Edward broached the difficult subject of whether Wortley would leave his by now vast fortune to Edward as their only son. He indicated he would ensure Mary were taken care of, were that to be the case. This attitude infuriated her and so they parted.
Family connections procured an army commission for Edward, and he even served in battle at Fontenoy in France. Mary had to wait a month before hearing that he had survived. He was a prisoner of war for a time but then returned to England.
Again, Wortley exerted family pressure to ensure he was given a safe parliamentary seat, so as to escape prosecution. But Edward fell into bad company again, forging a friendship with a notorious highwayman, James McLean, who was then sent to the gallows. He made a bigamous marriage with a friend of McLean’s, Miss Elizabeth Ashe, and embarked with her on a career of swindling, gambling, extortion and physical violence. He was thrown into the Châtelet prison in Paris, but released on bail and sent back to England. As Mary wrote to Wortley:
The only way to avoid disappointment is never to Indulge any Hope on his Account.
Having not seen either of her children for many years, Mary’s death brought them back into her life. Wortley died in 1761 and defied convention by leaving his fortune to their daughter not their son. Inevitably Edward challenged this. Mary, who by now had breast cancer, made the long journey across Europe to London to be reunited with her daughter’s family and fight Edward’s lawsuit. She admitted that Edward had broken her heart. But relations with the Butes were not easy either. Whether or not she was indeed a Bad Mother, Mary’s relationships with her children ultimately brought her precious little happiness.
You can find out much more about Mary Wortley Montagu and her family in Jo’s book and check out her website here.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Molly Chatterton of Lillicoco, antique and vintage jewellers, to talk about a subject close to my heart – 18th century jewellery, so without any further ado I’ll hand you straight over to Molly:
The explosion of Bridgerton on our screens late last year has brought a renewed interest to the Regency era. And whilst we were glued to our screens waiting for Daphne and Simon to just profess their undying love and devotion for one another, we couldn’t help but also be dazzled by the array of glittering jewellery.
Whilst some jewellery historians have already said that the jewellery within this TV series has taken the artistic licence quite liberally, it does make us wonder what kind of jewellery was worn in this period, and specifically, the types of jewellery worn to debutante balls and important occasions.
From Diamond sprays to stomachers and sevignes, there were an array of high Georgian jewellery that was pinned, clasped and sewn into a young woman’s eveningwear. Here, we focus specifically on three different types of sparkling Georgian jewellery that was front and centre at fashionable 18th century European balls.
If there was something that the Georgians specifically wanted from their jewellery, it was luminosity, vibrance and colour, and this was achieved through the ancient art of foiling.
18th and early 19th-century lapidaries could only do a few certain kinds of gemstone cuts. These included rose cut, table cut, and flat cut. Unlike more modern gemstone cuts, these gemstone cuts did not reveal the natural innate fire of certain gemstones. That being said, they certainly possessed their own romantic character and allure. To increase the gemstones vibrancy, and to add more colour and depth, the Georgians placed foils in the backs of the gemstone settings. These foils could be the same colour as the gemstone or they could be a different but complementary colour entirely.
The foils were designed to increase the refraction of light, creating an intense flash of colour and draw the eye to the centre. Some of our favourite foiled jewellery pieces in our collection have included pink-foiled Amethyst and Paste, peachy-foiled Diamonds and Paste, and sumptuous foiled Garnets.
Foiled pieces were highly fashionable and sought after for 18th and 19th-century balls, this is because the foils would literally come alive in candlelit rooms. 18th century and early 19th century fashions lowered the decollete of ballgowns, which, of course, led to more flesh on display. With this in mind, foiling was commonly used with earrings, riviere necklaces and pendants. So, if you wanted to attract a certain suitor, then this style of jewellery would literally catch their eye and draw their gaze towards your face and neck.
It is no secret that beautiful bejewelled jewellery and the night sky certainly have a stylistic affinity with one another. You can find a myriad of celestial fashion jewellery today but did you know that astrological themed jewellery was in vogue during the 18th and 19th century?
This rise in Georgian celestial jewellery coincided with the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1780). Just a century before, there were spectacular scientific discoveries made by Galileo about outer space. This clearly held huge weight within Georgian society, as the whole world was not only bedazzled by the universe, but also what part they played within it. With this in mind, the interest in astrology boomed, and it wasn’t long for the fascination with the heavens to pass through the minds of astronomers to the fingertips of jewellers.
One of the two most sought after pieces of Georgian celestial jewellery were Bagues Au Firmament and Halley’s Comet. Bagues Au Firmament were a fashionable ring trend first emerging in France, and were even worn by the Queen Marie Antoinette herself! Bagues Au Firmament dreamily translates to “Ring of the Heavens”, and they were a poetic rendition of the night sky. These rings were often a sea of blue Enamel or blue glass, and were speckled with Diamonds or Paste gems. Certainly a statement piece, these rings were a must-have for any regency ball. As not only did it show that you were learned in the art of the universe, but also that you had the taste of Parisian and French fashions at your fingertips.
The second type of Celestial jewellery that was a must for regency balls were Halley’s Comet jewellery. If you weren’t already aware, Halley’s Comet is one of the world’s most famous comets, circling the sun every 75-76 years. The comet was named after Sir Edmund Halley, a royal astronomer who accurately predicted all of the comet’s sightings. In 1759 and 1835, the comet made its regular appearance in a scheduled and timely manner. What resulted was an explosion of commemorative jewellery, from Diamond shooting stars, Paste-encrusted sunbursts and meticulously carved intaglio’s of Halley’s face. We can just imagine the numerous balls and parties that were thrown to celebrate the comet’s arrival, the long-awaited special VIP guest of the night!
Just like the Bagues Au Firmament, it was paramount to have these quintessentially romantic jewels at regency balls, especially if you wanted to have the gossip periodicals discussing your etoile-encrusted ensemble the next day!
Giardinetti jewellery is beautiful and captivating. Throughout the 18th and especially in the 19th century Flowers were a fashionable and symbolic bejewelled choice, especially when it comes to the art and ardours of love. So much so that this culminated in the Victorian language of flowers.
Giardinetti jewellery actually first became popular in Italy, with “Giardinetti” translating to “Little Garden”.
These were mainly rings and brooches that were speckled with tiny blossoms of Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds and coloured Paste gems protruding from Silver and Gold flowerpots. This style of jewellery reflected the delicate and elegantly composed fashions of the Rococo period, as well as in keeping with the floral embroidered gowns that were in vogue from the 1740s to 1780s.
Giardinetti jewellery was a literal breath of fresh air in the world of 18th century fashion, adding an innocent soupçon of sparkle to a pastel silk gown. Giardinetti gems were also exchanged between lovers and friends, perhaps Simon would have given Daphne a Giardinetti ring or brooch to show the other suitors just what they were missing!
We hope you have enjoyed reading all about fabulous glittering Georgian jewellery, you can see the current Lillicoco Georgian jewellery collection here!
I am delighted to welcome my first guest of the year to All Things Georgian, Elizabeth Larby, who, apart from being the archivist at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, has also come across a fascinating diary which she is going to tell us more about today.
The diary is safely stored at Norfolk Records Office, but Elizabeth has also transcribed it and added additional information. I have added links at the end of this post if you’d like to find out more about this fascinating gentleman.
Intrepid Mr Marten set off with his wife Emma, daughter Sarah and servant from the Custom House steps in London aboard the ‘Hero’ steam packet on 7th September 1825 for a voyage to the depths of Norfolk of 24 days duration. The trip – intended for the ‘heath and pleasure’ of the family – took them initially by sea to Great Yarmouth, on to stays in Cromer and Norwich, and finally to a few days of Georgian country delights with friends.
Who was author of the 1825 diary?
Robert Humphrey Marten was born on 21st March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the period. His father Nathaniel was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson. The family attended local Congregationalist (Independent) meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in the home.
After assuring himself of her ‘pious principle’ and sampling her sensible conversation, Robert married Mary Reeves in 1789 at Bethnal Green.
Sadly, their happiness was short-lived, and Mary was taken ill during the following year and died in June. By the end of the year, however, on the advice of his father, the young man was once again considering marriage.
Having renewed his acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Giles, Robert proposed and was accepted. He and Elizabeth were married on 12th July 1791 at Milton-next-Gravesend Church. Living on a small income, the couple had to practice economy in the home and no frivolous Sunday parties were allowed, instead they lived according the advice of their church, working and praying hard, remaining cheerful despite their straitened circumstances.
The first of Robert’s five children, Robert Giles, was born on 22nd June 1792. Improving finances allowed a move to No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London, a comfortable house with a small garden. By this time Robert had become a partner with the maritime insurance company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for the ambitious 30-year old. To the firm’s main business of insurance, Robert added the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.
By 1805 Elizabeth’s health was declining and a change of air recommended, encouraging a move to Broadway House in the village of Plaistow and a daily commute by two-wheeled chaise for Robert. A gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household.
As more dissenting families moved into the area the need for a suitable place of worship became more pressing and Robert was one of the founders of the meeting house in 1807. As well as being a leading light in the chapel, Robert was well known for his generosity and charity in the area and worked tirelessly in support of many causes.
On the death of his second wife Elizabeth in 1811 Robert wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children.
Another two years passed before a new bride was chosen for her very high character and approved by the children. Emma Martin, who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour, became his wife on 8th July 1813.
By 1825 the demands of business and philanthropy were taking their toll on Robert’s health in the form of headaches and nervous exhaustion, hence the need for a break at the seaside with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.
The discovery of Robert’s journal and identify
In 1983 I was looking around for a new project, having completed ‘Poppyland in Pictures’, an illustrated guide to the history of tourism in Cromer whilst working as a volunteer at the local museum. My college history tutor suggested I might see if the Norfolk Record Office had any interesting texts that I could edit and bring to the public’s attention and the little calf-skin diary came into my life. I was immediately struck by the charm of Robert’s writing and the strong element of social history as he described the sights and sounds of Georgian England on his travels.
I soon became fascinated with the diarist and keen to find out more about him than the little he reveals in the diary pages. Robert was clearly a caring man, his benevolence well in evidence in the journal with small acts of kindness to local children and helping a distressed widow on board ship, as well as involvement in missionary work with Norwich worthies. Although a serious man, Robert clearly had a cheeky sense of humour, and there are several instances of his amusement at the canny Cromer locals and their efforts to profit from their visitors!
At this stage though I knew little more than his name so decided to try advertising in The Lady magazine in case he was known to one of their readers. As luck would have it, a family friend of Robert’s great great grandson John W. King just happened to be browsing its pages and came across my plea for information. John soon came up trumps with a family tree and autobiography of my diarist giving all the information I wished for and more.
Newly armed with material on Robert and his background, I set about researching the people and places mentioned on his travels in detail to help bring the tour to life and provide some context.
The diary’s charm and historical value
Robert’s diary is illustrated with contemporary engravings as well as his own careful pencil sketches and it was fascinating to compare the scenes he recorded in Cromer to that of today and find that some have actually changed very little. Cromer was just emerging as a holiday destination for discerning visitors and still retains its charm as a seaside resort – walking on the pier and cliffs enjoying the views, picking up shells & fossils on the beach, enjoying the bracing sea air and tasty seafood are common to the Marten family’s experience and that of today’s tourists.
Norwich still has plenty to interest the visitor, with its old buildings, cobbled streets, churches and markets, but we would perhaps not want to visit places on Robert’s itinerary such as the new prison buildings and factories, the evidence of a changing, industrial society. Yarmouth has probably changed the most with its mass tourism appeal, amusement arcades and funfairs, and is certainly less smelly than when the Martens visited when the town’s prosperity was based on its herring fisheries!
The later Georgian era was called the first great age of popular travel, when the activity was no longer restricted to business or necessity, and was starting to become a pleasure in itself and even associated with idea of an annual holiday. During the last quarter of the 18th century travel books were amongst the bestsellers, and, like the eagle-eyed antiquarian, Robert is always on the lookout for the picturesque view complete with crumbling ruins. The tour ends with a stay in a country house where the family enjoy some typical Georgian delights including shooting, a musical evening, riding, and some fine dining.
Robert Marten died of a coronary at his home in Plaistow, aged 76 on 11th December 1839. In many ways he mirrored the changing society in which he lived and recorded in the pages of his Norfolk journal, sharing common roots in 18th century England, but showing symptoms of the great transformation afoot in the 19th century.
With his sense of order and tradition and preference in all things for the ‘solemn grandeur’ he admired in Norwich Cathedral, he was typical of the 18th century gentleman. Yet, with his interest in the inventions and industrial expansion of the day, the diarist was also very much a man of the 19th century.
Just to let you know, I’m taking a seasonal break now until Wednesday 13 January 2021, and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone seasons greetings and my sincerest wish for you all, that 2021 will be an improvement on the rollercoaster ride that 2020 has been.
This year, apart from my own articles I have been delighted to welcome several guests to All Things Georgian, who have shared some fascinating stories with us. So, whilst you try to relax over the festive period you might enjoy re-reading some or catching up on ones you missed the first time around.
I am delighted to welcome guest author and blogger Jeremy Bell who is going to tell you more about a couple of hidden secrets , which he’s sure that many people will not have noticed before, within Hogarth’s painting.
Much has been written about the characters in William Hogarth’s painting The March of the Guards to Finchley (1751). However, there are two figures that the artist concealed within the painting, and this is the perfect year for them both to be exposed.
In this, the tricentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the prince and his nemesis, the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) have been discovered, along with details of their face-off at Culloden.
Take a look at the central detail in which a grenadier marches in step with his pregnant wife. They are assaulted by a Catholic woman, identified by her cross and priest-like robes. She attacks the couple with some verbal abuse and a Jacobite newspaper!
Another soldier seems to charge at her from behind and drive her back with his halberd. Although he is standing several yards behind the woman, Hogarth uses a trick of perspective to make it seem like he is running her through.
On closer inspection, this soldier’s swarthy face is similar to a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland which the protestant woman carries in her basket. It is covered by a copy of ‘God Save the King’, a reference to rumours of the Duke’s aspirations to rule.
Hogarth often employed such visual tricks (trompe l’oeil) to tell his stories. Notice how the artists darkened the place where the rolled-up newspaper seems to make contact with the soldier’s shoulder.
The publication’s full title – ‘The Remembrancer or weekly Slap in the Face of the Ministry’ had attacked the Duke in the year of the painting, by criticising his proposal for army discipline. The scene of rowdy soldiers begs for this necessary reform.
This Catholic woman represents the Jacobite forces which were camped just 100 miles away from London. Her charge being repelled by the pikeman is a premonition of the imminent conflict. The other end of the halberd axe appears to threaten the mother and child in the cart (positioned many yards behind him). I believe that this trompe l’oeil refers to the alleged atrocities that took place after the battle of Culloden.
Although these details are obvious once it is pointed out, I do not believe that anyone has written about this example of Hogarth’s storytelling. The artist also included a depiction of the leader of the Jacobite forces. How wonderful to discover several hints that identify Charles Edward Stuart in the year of his 300th birthday.
You don’t have to search long to find a miniature portrait of the Stuart prince – he is the only one looking to the North. A first account description describes him as a tall, slender, upright man. It was noted that his neck was ‘long, but not ungracefully so, …. with a slender stock buckled behind.’ This conforms to Hogarth’s tiny depiction of him.
Hogarth has imagined that Charles has disguised himself as a British officer. He has come down from his camp in Derby to spy on the enemy’s position. He is actually being pointed out by his accomplice who crouches behind him. This man’s red hair identifies him as a Scotsman. The bayonet that overlaps his head is another trompe that hints at the Jacobite inevitable slaughter.
Hogarth obfuscates the Scotsman’s finger-pointing by painting him in the act of stealing some alcohol from a barrel (that is a gimlet in his mouth). His finger-to-the-nose sign was always reported as ‘quiet don’t tell anyone.’ In this new context, he is actually telling us not to give the prince away.
Hogarth presents us with a whole line of thieves. One man steals milk from a maid, while another ‘steals’ a kiss. A third soldier points all this out to a pieman, and then steals from him in the process.
Hogarth was famous for including clever word games within his art. I wonder if he continued this line of thievery to the Scotsman (who is stealing from the barrel), and the prince who is ‘stealing away’. Commentators focus on the painter’s disrespect of the troops. However, Hogarth’s intention might have been to create this visual pun.
He who would be Charles III, is riding away from the Charles II tavern sign. In the distance we can see that Charles Edward is headed towards a barren tree – a symbol of the impending disaster that awaits the House of Stuart. It compares to a healthy tree on the other side.
While we, the viewer, can see this tree from our position, the branches lie just out of the prince’s sight. The symbol of his imminent defeat lies ‘just around the corner’. (My red arrow shows the prince’s sight line with the dead tree coloured in red). At this particular moment in time, Charles was still confident that he would win the day. However, the painter knows the full story. With a clever addition, Hogarth has given away the ending with a forewarning of the atrocities that will follow.
Ending on a less depressing note, I think it a wonderful coincidence that the Scottish spy who accompanies the Young Pretender looks like a character from Outlander – Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan). The series, based on the wildly popular books by Diane Gabaldon, concerns time travel to the Jacobite times – here is your proof in oil!
Jeremy Bell’s book William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot (2017) was written to coincide with the 300th anniversary of formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.
Over 300 illustrations show how Hogarth actually hid previously unnoticed portraits of himself within his work, along with the signs, passwords and ‘secret knocks’ of the Freemasons. It explains how Jacobite Freemasonry (which is the true original Scottish form), was used to infiltrate London gentry, and suggests that the Duke of Burlington built Chiswick Villa as a stage to welcome the return of a restored Stuart king. Indeed, the ‘failed’ waterfall at Chiswick was actually a cleverly constructed ‘carriage splash’ that would welcome ‘The King Over the Water’.
The book can be ordered via Jeremy’s website , he can also be contacted at Brotherhogarth@gmail.com
Today I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Paul Martinovich. After a career spent planning museum exhibits in North America and Ireland, Paul retired to pursue a longstanding interest in the Napoleonic Wars.
He first came across Selina Cordelia St Charles whilst researching for his forthcoming biography of Pulteney Malcolm: The Sea is my Element: the eventful life of Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm, in which you can find out more about the liaison between Malcolm and Selina, and the fate of their son.
The biography of Malcolm is the result of several years research in archives in Britain and North America.
With that introduction I’ll now hand over to Paul to tell you more about the illusive Selina Cordelia St Charles:
In April of 1796, a 13-year-old girl boarded the East Indiaman William Pitt in Portsmouth harbour. An observer might have noted that she was well-dressed and well-spoken—these facts (along with her elegant name) would have suggested she was from a good family. But what were her origins, why was she going to India alone (except for her maid), what would become of her when she got there? These questions are not easy to answer, but the research has revealed a strange and unexpected life, and the interesting woman who lived it.
Selina was not famous and is not well-documented in the historical record. In fact, her origins are shrouded in mystery, and are the least-understood part of her life. She was almost certainly illegitimate, and born in 1782 or 1783. She was said to have been born in Quebec, and named ‘Selina Cordelia St Charles’, ‘facts’ which it has not been possible to verify, and may well be a red herring to conceal her true parentage. Her father was almost certainly one of a clan of prosperous traders and professional men named Birch, possibly William Henry Birch, an officer in the British Army. Her mother’s identity remains unknown.
The infant Selina was brought up by her Birch grandparents, William and Sally Birch, in Pinner just outside London. Sally Birch was born a Holwell, a family that, like the Birches, had long-standing trading connections with India. She was the daughter of John Zephaniah Holwell, survivor and publicist of the ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’. In this famous outrage nearly a hundred-and-fifty British civilians, captured by an Indian ruler, were crammed overnight into a space the size of a good-sized bedroom. The next morning most of them were dead, but Holwell was among the living. After the British recaptured Calcutta, in order to perpetuate the memory of his dead companions he had a monument erected on the site and wrote a widely read book on the incident.
Selina would have learned of these events, and of her family’s Indian links from her grandparents. They also provided her with a good education judging by her letters, which are well-composed and written in an elegant hand.
In 1796, possibly as a result of the death of her father, it was decided to send Selina to India, even though she was only about 13 years old. There she would live with her Birch uncles, prominent businessmen with the East India Company, and would be expected eventually to find a husband. The dispatching of children to live with relatives in distant countries was not unknown in Georgian times, and the annual traffic in young women travelling to India to seek a husband was so common that it came to be nicknamed ‘the fishing fleet’.
So when Selina boarded the Indiaman she must have felt she was about to begin a great adventure. Another passenger was Major John Shee, a British Army officer going out to join his regiment (the 33rd) in Bengal.
Their shipboard acquaintance led the astonishingly young Selina (she was still playing with dolls) to marry the 26-year-old Shee when the ship stopped at Cape Town. Even though marriages to 16 or even 15-year old girls were not unheard of in the Georgian period, it is difficult to understand how under any circumstances a child of 13 could be allowed to marry a man of 26. Probably, Shee got around the legal prohibition on those under 21 from marrying without parental consent by having the banns read in three successive Sundays at a church in Cape Town. Shee’s regiment stayed at the Cape for a couple of months before embarking for India. Selina (now Mrs Shee) seems to have proceeded to Calcutta on a different ship to her husband, under the protection of a Captain Henry Churchill, who was probably her uncle. Perhaps this was because it was felt that such a young girl should not be exposed to the sights and sounds on the troopship in which Shee travelled.
The couple reunited in India and the marriage seems to have been briefly happy as Selina lived with John Shee at Fort William in Calcutta. However in 1798, he sent her back to England on the Indiaman Hawke. Later Selina claimed that this move was for her health, and that she expected Shee to soon join her. Another explanation for sending Selina to England might be to remove her from being caught up in a war with Tipu Sultan, which was clearly imminent. Whatever the reason, Shee not only sent his teenage wife home without making any provision for her support while she was in England, but then also failed to communicate with her in any way for more than two years.
In England Selina lived with her grandparents in Pinner. Naturally she was very short of money, so she wrote a series of polite letters to her husband’s relatives (which included Sir George Shee, a rich nabob with an important government post) asking for support, while proclaiming her continued affection for her delinquent spouse. Selina’s efforts to convince herself that her husband was not the callous spouse that he seemed to be are captured in this extract from a letter she wrote to Jane Jackson, Shee’s sister.
It is the appearance of neglect from him who is dearer to me than life which has stung me to the heart; how then can I help tenderly loving her [Jane Jackson] who assures me of the truth of that which I have always believed? that cruel accident [letters having gone missing] and not neglect is the cause of all my anxieties. I have had every proof of the goodness and Generosity of Col. Shee’s heart, not only in his behavior to me while in India (which was all tenderness and affection), but from his general Character. Is it likely then that his Wife alone should have just reason to doubt the Excellency of his heart?
Selina seems to have received little or no assistance from the Shees, so when the financial situation of her Birch relatives became more difficult, she resolved to return to her husband in India. Where the money came from to pay for her passage is not clear.
John Shee had meanwhile risen to the rank of brevet lieutenant-colonel in the 33rd, which happened to be the regiment of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. There is ample evidence that Wellesley despised Shee, considering him an incompetent officer, and ‘a species of assassin’, who practiced with a pistol in order to be able to kill his opponents in duels more efficiently.
Selina reached India in July 1801 but did not stay long, since Shee (apparently because of Wellesley’s enmity) decided to return to England and sell his army commission. She accompanied her husband on this journey, but the marriage was now breaking down, and it seems likely that Shee was physically abusing his wife.
The couple was offered a passage from Cape Town to England by a naval captain named Pulteney Malcolm, who was returning in his ship of the line after some years in Indian waters. A number of other passengers and about a hundred troops were also crammed aboard the ship, which was in poor condition and urgently needed repairs.
During the passage, Malcolm and Selina became lovers, despite the proximity of her husband, who on discovering the liaison quitted the ship to complete his journey on another vessel. On reaching England Shee sued Malcolm for Criminal Conversation, essentially an action for ‘damages’ to his ‘property’ i.e. his wife’s reputation. During the trial it became apparent that Shee had beaten Selina, and while the jury found for the plaintiff, it clearly did not feel he deserved any sympathy in the situation.
As was customary in such cases, Selina did not testify in the trial. In fact she was now pregnant with Malcolm’s child, and gave birth to a son a few months later.
Somewhat conveniently, John Shee died (possibly due to alcohol, since he was a heavy drinker) in March 1804.
Three weeks later Selina married one James Martin Holwell, a haberdasher aged 21. This was no sudden infatuation—James Martin was her cousin, another descendant of John Zephaniah Holwell, and she had surely known him from her childhood in Pinner.
At this point, Selina’s life settles into a more typical path. The couple moved to Devon, where Selina had two children with James Martin. His haberdashery business did not prosper and he went bankrupt, but was rescued by Captain Malcolm, who got him a job with the Navy. In the post-war slump, the Holwell family emigrated to Canada, and settled in Montreal. It is not clear if by this move Selina was returning to her roots in the New World: this is just another aspect of the mystery of her eventful life. Selina Cordelia Holwell died in Montreal, still only 42, in 1825.
Should anyone happen to know something about Selina’s origins—where and when she was born and who her parents were Paul would be grateful to learn the details. Such an extraordinary woman deserves a full accounting of her life.
East Indiaman Pitt in two positions by Whitcombe (Christies)
Today I once again welcome back Etienne Daly who has been using the ‘lockdown’ very productively continuing his research into Dido Elizabeth Belle and in particular his eye was drawn to the frigate HMS Dido. So, I’ll hand over to him tell you more about his findings:
The ‘lockdown’ and Covid-19 may have forced people to be at home, but for me it turned out to be advantageous because it allowed me time to read some books on admirals that I’d been meaning to do for a while now.
John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent. National Portrait Gallery
It was whilst I was reading a book on Earl St. Vincent, known, many years earlier to Sir John Lindsay, simply as John Jervis, that I discovered the frigate HMS Dido. I never knew such a ship existed so was keen to find out more.
I was already aware that both Lord and Lady Mansfield had ships named after them, with Lord Mansfield attending the launch of his, one of the largest of the East Indiamen ships, in 1777 at Rotherhithe and it was this which made me wonder whether HMS Dido could have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle and with that, the research began.
Sensing this could be linked to Dido Elizabeth Belle, the first thing I needed to establish was whether any ship been given this name in the past, if there was it meant this was not the case and merely a new ship named carrying an older name of Dido. There wasn’t any such ship named in the past and prior to checking this I noted that timeline as being perfect for the naming of the frigate, notably 1782, 1784, 1785 finally 1787 – all in the ‘catchment time zone’ that I will go on to explain shortly.
Before I do, it’s best to explain first that in the 18th century to progress in life you needed one or all of these: patronage, privilege, grace and favours and if possible, a sprinkling of nepotism from an influential relative or three this was especially the case in the Royal Navy and the army (during his years of First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich kept a patronage book). Three lords had to sign an admiralty order(and/or request)to get things in motion and Sir John would have been well acquainted with all of them.
Just a point of interest worth mentioning, in August 1779, there was a ship launched named HMS Montagu during the tenure of Lord Sandwich, which, being the first lord of the admiralty was almost certainly named in his honour.
At the time of the new incoming government of April 1782, the Whig government, headed by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham all of these elements were in place, in fact Lord Rockingham was a relative of Lord and Lady Mansfield by marriage and this made him Dido’s uncle. To add to this the marquis was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House, Hampstead. He in turn would know Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay, very well.
The next influential person was the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Augustus Keppel, who knew Rockingham well and Sir John Lindsay even more so, both being in service during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), in the Caribbean, and to make things even more ‘pally’ was the fact that prior to 1782 they lived only ten minutes from each other in Mayfair. Keppel Keppel also left Sir John his sword, walking stick and a Richard Paton naval painting in his will.
Next you have to understand that if the admiralty was the right arm of the senior service, then the navy board was the left, and in there as surveyor and designer to the Royal Navy was Sir John Williams, who knew all mentioned quite well over the years, he designed the 28-un frigate that was going to be called HMS Dido. Not here, the ship was not named HMS Queen Dido nor HMS Dido, Queen of Carthage, but simply HMS Dido. This name would have been vague had it not been named that way because it was named after a living person, and not named after a mythical queen. This living person was Dido Elizabeth Belle who, when the ship was ordered on 5th June 1782 would turn 21 years old just over three weeks later.
It was said that, when Lord Sandwich was in office, he would flick through the pages of Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, looking for names to give ships. This was very much the sort of method used in the 18th century as names were plucked and agreed upon by arbitration, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a department was formed to name ships.
Prior to ordering the frigate relative paperwork, and by no means fully detailed as explained, would have landed on the desk of Admiral Keppel for his approval, perhaps cursory signature followed, but the naming of this frigate would have been fully agreed well in advance. Sir John would have known this.
For whilst Dido’s father was no longer on active service since April 1779, the same time as his close friend Keppel resigned his services, Sir John was since the August of the previous year, 1781, a ‘Colonel of Marines’ a sinecure given to those deemed worthy of such a role by their past naval service, this position was offered to him by the king himself, who I’ll mention, as a patron and influence to Sir John a little later.
For now, Keppel drew up a list of naval officers he wished to employ with immediate effect and on that list at the top for captains/commodores was the name of Sir John Lindsay KB and other names followed after. It hasn’t been fully discovered yet why Sir John didn’t take up this offer but the whole list was presented to the First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Rockingham, who would have seen this familiar name on the list – it’s safe to say that Lindsay could have had the job that April 1782 rather than a year later as a lord of the admiralty in 1783. Being a wealthy man perhaps Lindsay was content for the time being as Colonel of Marines, but Keppel and Sir John would definitely have been in regular contact in those early days of a new Whig government.
Lord Mansfield, whilst a Tory would have been contact with his relative the new premier, as mentioned Rockingham often dined at Caenwood House, ad certainly would have met his niece Dido there. When seeing the approval of the name HMS Dido for a small ship by Keppel with Sir John’s instigation, it would have been immediately sanctioned and passed. All parties involved would have agreed by arbitration leaving nobody else to challenge the decision save jeopardising their career and patronage.
Back now to the king, he was Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy and whilst not getting involved in everyday events at the admiralty he would certainly be aware of the naming of ships a well as promoting officers of the rank. The king was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House as Lord Mansfield was to the king at St. James’s Palace, the Queen’s House and at Kew Palace.
The king and queen would probably have met Dido on their visits to the Mansfield’s, so her name wouldn’t sound strange in 1782 when a frigate is passed and ordered by the admiralty lords called HMS Dido. It’s also worth noting that the king’s governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, was related to the Countess Mansfield by marriage, having married Lady Betty’s brother William.
Lady Charlotte was governess to the princes/princesses for 30 years, so she too would have visited the Mansfield’s with her husband, so you can see now where the patronage is coming from and why there would have been no obstacles in the way of naming a ship, in this case HMS Dido and on the month of her 21st birthday and no longer a minor.
The king and queen would, most likely have been aware of the ship’s naming and who requested it, this brings them to Sir John Lindsay whom the king himself knighted in 1764, made a Knight of the Bath in 1770 and commodore with full command of the East India Station and Gulf of Persia the previous year. If that wasn’t enough, he was also representing the king as ‘ambassador’ to India with his dealings with both the crown prince of Arcot and the Honourable East India Company. He was also given full command of all marines stationed at Madras. Now this should tell you of the patronage, privilege, grace and favours bestowed upon Sir John Lindsay by the king and the nepotism of his uncle the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. By now you should be able to see the people of influence involved of the initial influencer, Sir John and why all would agree upon the name choice.
Just the following year as the frigate was under construction in 1783, and through Admiral Keppel, Sir John accepted the role of commodore and commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, which greatly pleased the king. Was this in return for the king’s support in the naming of the vessel? We will never fully know, but we do know that the king often met with Sir John.
William Bentinck,3rd Duke of Portland, a Whig, became premier in April 1783 and was also a close friend of Sir John and had rented out his house in Mansfield Street to Sir John from June 1782 prior to him joining the administration in 1783 as an admiralty lord. As a close contact of Sir John he wouldn’t question his frigate request and would pass it unchallenged, leaving as mentioned no one else to question the final decision.
It’s also noting that Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Portland, William’s mother, was a very close friend of the Mansfield’s, especially Lady Betty, again showing influence in the right places. She would have most likely have met Dido often on her visits to Caenwood House.
Now to the timeline of events from that order in June 1782 for the frigate named HMS Dido. To start, by June 1782 peace overtures were in their early stages of ending the American War of Independence, but in the March, Dido’s aunt Margaret Ramsay died, starting off a cycle of deaths within the family. In July 1782, the Marquess of Rockingham died. Margaret’s husband Allan Ramsay, the renowned artist, being Dido’s uncle would have been aware of the naming of the frigate.
The year 1783 saw Sir John made both Lord of the Admiralty and a commodore who by October that year headed off as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. In the meantime, in the previous 12 months the keel went down for the ship at Sandgate, Kent and construction was on the way. 1784 saw the death of Countess Mansfield in the April and Allan Ramsay in the August, so both would have been aware of the forthcoming frigate’s launch later that year but never got to experience it. 1785 saw the ship completed in the main and it was sent up to Royal Deptford dockyard for final finishing and coppering. That year was also the last year Lord Mansfield was in full office, as the following year he began working part-time from home, with Dido’s assistance until a new chief justice was found. He resigned office in June 1788.
Whilst Sir John returned from his command in late October 1784, he would have heard of the launching of HMS Dido on 27th November 1784 and have been kept aware of that ship’s progress well into 1787 when the frigate was now based at Portsmouth. On 24th September 1787 HMS dido was commissioned by the Royal Navy for service, and note, the very day that Sir John was promoted by the king to Rear Admiral of the Red – the highest promotion for a rear admiral whilst suffering from severe gout, Sir John remained in service albeit on terra firma, until his death on 4th June 1788, when returning from Bath after taking the waters.
Based upon my findings it was no coincidence that both the commissioning and Sir John’s promotion took places on the same day – in my opinion, it was planned that way.
There were 27 Enterprise frigates designed and built over the years, in batches but note the last batch of 3 frigates covered the period 1782-1783, just the very years that the Whigs were in power in government and all known or related to Sir John, (later an admiralty lord himself) and his daughter Dido. All had an input in the naming, launching and the commissioning of the first ship ever named Dido in the Royal Navy to date.
It’s also worth noting that prior to the naming of the newly designed frigate by Sir John Williams, then to the request of naming, building, launching and commissioning was a certain recently retired first lord that knew all about it and knew it was patronage from start to finish was John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. During his career he was 3 times First Lord of the Admiralty and kept a personal ‘patronage book’ himself – I bet Sir John was in it, because he wrote to Lord Mansfield on 26th December 1780 from Blackheath, requesting Sir John rejoin the navy (after his resignation in 1779), as he was a naval officer of merit.
Oddly, Lord Sandwich came to live at Sir John’s house in Hertford Street after the North administration fell in March 1782 and stayed there till his death in 1792.
I doubt any paperwork exists that can fully confirm the order of the frigate and as names were plucked or discussed arbitrarily in the 18th century the latter was more the case. There are too many coincidences in my findings overall, and many influential persons to be found with close links to Sir John and his quest to name a ship after his daughter in her 21st year, a year when she was no longer a minor. It was also in 1782 that Dido was included in Lord Mansfield’s will, freeing her of any slavery in the future. So, Dido received two very good birthday presents for her 21st birthday.
Just one final items which demonstrates that Dido was not hidden away, but was known to Lord Mansfields family and friends comes in the form a newspaper report about the death of Sir John Lindsay, from 1788:
As a final point of interest, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was given her surname Bonetta by Captain James Forbes, who liberated her from slavery and who was the captain of HMS Bonetta.
Etienne has recently found out from Richard at the website More Than Nelson that there was sloop named Stormont, which Etienne believe would have been named after Viscount Stormont. The Stormont of 14 Guns commanded by Nicholas Charrington, was taken at the capture of St. Eustatius in February 1781. It was then captured by the French on 3 February 1782 at Demerara.
The second Stormont of 16 guns was previously the American privateer Scourge and which was taken on 14 February 1782 by the Protee 64, Captain Charles Buckner, in the Leeward Islands. It is feasible that Admiral Rodney had probably learned of the loss of the first Stormont by the time he appointed Cobb to command the captured Scourge on 13 March 1782, but Richard has said that he doesn’t know whether he would have renamed the Scourge ‘Stormont’ or whether instructions were issued from the Admiralty to do so some months later.
It is Etienne’s opinion that Lord Sandwich would have authorised the naming of both sloops (14&16guns) HMS Stormont, and as Stormont related to Viscount Stormont, Lord Mansfield’s nephew, it would have been named after him. Finally worth noting is the first captured sloop named HMS Stormont 14, was renamed Le Stormond by the French as mostly probably because Lord Stormont was ambassador to France from 1772 till 1778 when hostilities broke out between Great Britain and France. Lord Stormont up to this time was very close to the French Royal Family even attending the new king’s wedding to Marie Antoinette in May 1774—in fact his uncle Lord Mansfield joined him too on this special occasion.
Although there was never a ship named in honour of Sir John Lindsay, there were four ships with likely connections to the family – HMS Dido, as above; one owned by the East India Company – Earl of Mansfield, 1777, commanded by a Sir William Fraser, and according to Oxford Journal, 26 May 1781 there was also a brig named Lady Mansfield and now, a sloop, The Stormont.
Today, I have another guest post, by Etienne Daly about his research into the burial of Dido Elizabeth Belle‘s sons.
After establishing early on in my research that Dido Elizabeth Belle, Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat was buried at St George’s Fields Burial Ground, I next focussed my attention to her two sons – Charles and William Thomas (whose twin John, died in infancy) and was probably also buried at St George’s Fields.
I started my search back in February 2016. Finding Charles, William Thomas was no easy feat as I thought it would be. Having contacted most of the cemeteries in Greater London, starting with the Brompton Cemetery, where Lavinia Amelia Daviniere, late Wohlgemuth, was buried, then nearby Margravine Cemetery and on to Paddington Cemetery, all bearing no fruit. It was the same story for Highgate and others. I eventually fell upon Kensal Green Cemetery in north London as a possible because both Charles and William Thomas lived nearby. Charles in Notting Hill and William Thomas in Paddington, with both staying within those areas for much of their lives, they married, had children, lived and died in those boroughs, but they did also travel.
My first call to the cemetery bore fruit as they were able to locate the grave of William Thomas on their register and gave me those details over the phone, whilst asking for any findings on his brother Charles or any other family members. ‘No, I’m sorry we can’t find anyone else listed here’, I was told. Odd? Perplexed I thanked them for their help. I continued my search for Charles and his family. Looking everywhere I could think of, but no joy and getting a bit frustrated, when I came across by chance, on Billion Dollar Graves.com, an image of a grave with a marble cross above it and written below was Charles George Daviniere, buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Died 16th January 1899. I knew then that this was Dido’s grandson from her twin son, Charles. Eureka, I cried as I always felt that if William Thomas was buried there, his older brother Charles would be too. So, quickly I grabbed the telephone to call the cemetery with this find.
Even with this call, they could not find a listing straight away, I even mentioned the site that I had found the details on. They suggested I leave it with them, and they would email me with any findings and references they could muster. I was hanging onto a thread of hope.
A day later I was emailed the information I wanted and again, I reached for the phone to call Kensal Green Cemetery, but this time I had a contact name who was dealing with my enquiry. I explained that I was puzzled that there was no sign of Charles, Dido’s son and could they please check again, and still even after that they could not confirm that Charles Daviniere (who died 24th January 1873) was actually at the cemetery. I even gave his title as Lieutenant Colonel – still no joy.
At least I have 2 family members now, so the next thing was to visit I thought. Absolutely. I had a contact at the friends of Kensal Green Cemetery who was able to pinpoint the exact area for me from his experience of the site as a whole.
There are thousands of graves that are intertwined just in the area I was going to visit let alone the cemetery as a whole without this knowledge the find would have been a lot longer, believe me. Needle in a haystack!
The first grave I found was in the sections 66 and 67 and was that of William Thomas, Dido’s last child, who I was able to establish then and there, was born on the 17th of December 1800.
I thought at the time ‘what a lovely Christmas present Dido got that year and just a week before that big event, a baby’. The grave is a ledger, a flat stone that covers the burial site and this one is made of pink granite – very expensive for the time. It was deeply engraved (a difficult job in those days), where all the family members were inscribed, William Thomas Daviniere – died 10th September 1867; wife, Fanny (Frances) – died 19th January 1869; Emily Helen (daughter) died 2nd March 1870. And finally, another relative William Charles Graham, nephew of Fanny. He lived with them and oddly he died on the same day and month as his uncle but being 10 September, three years later in 1870. So, within 3 years of William Thomas’s death, all the family were gone, all buried there.
A tree behind the ledger is tall and could have been planted there at the time of the final burial. Worth noting is the condition of the ledger today, given that it’s been in situ what will be 153 years this September, you would think it’s only been there 10 years maximum, it has weathered very well and has a sheen to it, remarkable really. And all the lettering is legible not eroded.
Having visited this grave I made my way to find that of Charles George Daviniere, bearing in mind it was a blowy, early March day in 2016, so not the best of days to linger around, quite cold too, with parts of the cemetery waterlogged.
I knew what to look for which was a marble cross albeit a bit grubby in appearance from the weather and placed on 3 tiers. I was told this grave wasn’t too far from that of William Thomas, in fact, it was only a stone’s throw away, literally so. Upon finding it fairly quickly, thanks to my contact, I noticed the grave was in a bad state and not tended to for many years. I noticed some of the family names were there, but not all. First, to be buried was Charles George who died on 16 January 1899, then was his son Percy Angus, he died 10 June 1904 in his 25th year and which was next followed by the wife of Charles George, Helen Marion Daviniere. She died on 23rd July 1932, a long life considering she was born in 1849/ Finally their youngest son Charles Crawford, who died on 28 Jul 1937, only into his 51st year, being born in 1886.
Reflecting again on the condition of that grave I turned to my left and noticed just beside Charles George’s monument, and I mean literally beside it, was a granite obelisk-shaped headstone which was in better condition, very grubby through many years of exposure to the weather. Encrusted with dirt, grime and birds mess. Upon closer inspection and to my complete surprise I saw first, inscribed the words: Lt. Col. Charles Daviniere of the MADRAS ARMY. Died 24 January 1873. In his 78th year.
Jumping for joy I read the other now grimy looking names on the obelisk: Lavinia Hannah Steele, died 20 February 1876, aged 38 years. To the side was a child’s burial, a son of Charles George – Herbert Lionel Daviniere, who died 20 November in 1878 only 17 months old – that was sad.
Lastly, was Charles his wife Hannah who died on the 14th of November 1883, some 10 years plus after the death of her husband. All now found by me and by chance. I noticed Hannah had the longest life dying at 70 years that was a good life span for the Victorian era.
They were all ‘upper, middle class,’ worth noting that Charles, William Thomas, Fanny and Hannah (Nash) Daviniere were all born in the Georgian era, 1795, 1800, 1801 and 1813 respectively. Their offspring all born in the Victorian era. But not all of Charles George’s children were buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
I quickly advised the staff at the burial office of my find, which they noted, and all sites are now included fully in the register so that other visitors should not have the difficulty I had, finding the graves. Having found the graves, I decided, that given their condition, if it were possible to have them renovated and cleaned up so they could look bit more respectable, so I contacted the nearby undertakers, E.M. Lander who like many funeral directors handle restorations, as monumental stone Masons. I explained the task at hand to him and they took over from there liaising with the cemetery directly and with clearance from them, started work in February 2017.
You’ll be able to see from the images how good a job they did of the three graves and I, in turn, attempt to visit these graves at least bi-monthly in order to keep him clean tidy and free from any fallen debris. Such a shame other graves unlocked looked after. I noticed on a recent visit that a nearby grave that had looked very weathered, had been cleaned up and the marble now looks bleach wide and surrounding area tidied up.
Anyone wishing to visit the Daviniere’s graves will be able to see from the map and the grids shown here, how to get there without needing a compass. You will also find the staff at the main office entrance on Harrow Road, most helpful.
Finally, some helpful tips – good footwear, an umbrella, a good coat should you visit in the wintertime, tissues/wet wipes to clean your shoes and boots after leaving the cemetery.
Should you wish to know more of those buried at Kensal Green, such as Augustus Frederick, King George III’s son, contact Kensal Green Cemetery on 0208 9690152, Monday to Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Today I welcome back Etienne Daly, with whom I’ve been working for a while now, researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, her life and her family. Today, Etienne is going to provide a quick Q&A session about Dido Elizabeth Belle, to set the record straight about some of the misinformation that still circulates in the public domain. Also, if you want to read more about her, you might like to try using the search option on All Things Georgian which will take you to all the current articles about Dido. I’ll now hand over to Etienne:
Over the past few years, there’s has been growing interest in Dido who is often referred to as Great Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat. This is partly true as her father, Sir John Lindsay K.B., was an aristocrat and she was raised from five years old in the ‘aristocratic’ environment of both Caenwood (Kenwood) House in Hampstead and Bloomsbury Square in London. Her great uncle and aunt were also part of the elite, with Lord Mansfield being the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
Dido received a special upbringing with the Mansfields, that which no person of colour in Western Europe of the time had. Even the Chevalier de St. Georges had to go to school whereas tutors came to the Mansfields to educate their great-nieces. Both cousins were educated equally and amongst their subjects, they were taught French – something that was to aid Dido very well in the future when she met John Louis Daviniere in the early 1790s. He was a Gentleman’s Steward.
Dido became an heiress in Lord Mansfield’s will of 1782 and whilst born in the era of slavery was never born as a slave herself, even though her mother Maria was. Maria was later freed from slavery by Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay. A lot more interest in Dido would follow but the media has given the impression that there is no more knowledge of her to be found. This is wrong!
Here are some of the answers to most common questions raised about Dido, although I am sure there’s plenty more.
1. Where is the real painting of Dido & Elizabeth?
The real painting of the cousins is at Scone Palace, Perth in Scotland
2. How did Dido die and at what age?
Dido is said to have died of natural causes at the aged of 43, in Pimlico, London
3. Was John Daviniere French or of French descent?
John Louis Daviniere was French, from Ducey in Normandy, France. He came to England in the mid-1780s.
4. What was John Daviniere’s occupation?
Daviniere’s was a Gentleman’s Steward, above head-butler, unlike his occupation in the film, Belle.
5. Was the film ‘Belle’ based on historic accuracy?
The film was based upon the book by Dr Paula Byrne and was very helpful in getting Dido known, but of course, being a film there was some creative licence and more information has emerged over time about her real life
6. Dido bore twins in 1795, one of the twins, John died in infancy – where is he buried?
Although no burial has been found so far, he was most likely buried at St George’s Field
7. What was the exact year and month Dido was born?
Dido was born on 29th June 1761 and in London. Confirmation that she was born in England was provided by Thomas Hutchinson.
8. Thomas Hutchinson remarked Dido’s hair didn’t match the larger curls now in fashion, did she ever try to relax her?
Most probably, as Hutchinson noted back in 1779 it was lengthened more than short curls. She most probably used pomade by the 1780s onwards to relax her hair finer still.
9. Was Dido really part of the Mansfield family and not a slave?
Dido was very much part of the family, fully educated by them and never raised or treated as a slave. This becomes clear when you read this newspaper article written in 1788 on the death of her father, Sir John Lindsay. It makes it clear how well respected Dido was by both family and visitors to the house.
10. Did Dido have any siblings?
No, but she did have several half-siblings. Sir John had 4 other children, all by different mothers and all born in Jamaica, one of whom died in infancy. The two who are best known to history were John and Elizabeth.
11. Where was Dido married and in what year?
Dido was married at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square – 5th December 1793, on the same day and at the same church as the 1st Duke of Sussex
12. As she was married by licence who paid for it?
As part of her inheritance, she had her licence paid for by her uncle, 2nd Earl Mansfield. The cost was £200.00. The cost of the licence would have bought you a 3-bedroom property with garden outside the city of London at that time.
13. It is said her grave was moved along with others to make way for a housing development, is this correct?
The main site was developed, but part of the 1st class plot was not excavated. There’s a blog showing my calculations
14. She is often referred to as black and sometimes mixed race, which one is she?
Dido was mixed race and not black. She had a white father, Sir John Lindsay and a black mother, Maria Bell
15. Was Dido financially secure after she left Caenwood House?
Dido was very secure financially when she left Caenwood House in early April 1793. In fact, she had her own bank account with one of London’s oldest and respected private banks
16. Where did she live after she got married? and for how long?
Dido went to live in Pimlico in a ‘new build’ Georgian house which would of have at least 3 bedrooms, a cook and housemaid. She lived there from 1794 until her death in 1804
17. Was Dido well educated like her cousin Elizabeth?
Yes. She was educated in all ladylike pursuits of the era including horse riding and had the same education as her cousin, Elizabeth
18. If Dido was found at St.George’s Fields Burial Ground how could you identify her for sure?
As per question 11, if found she could be identified firstly by DNA, and secondly, in 1791 there remains proof of her having dental work, she had two teeth removed from her lower jaw by a visiting dentist. She could also have been wearing a dress – more of which another time.
19. Was Dido’s father, Sir Lindsay, wealthy?
Yes, definitely. Apart from a naval salary, Sir John made good prize money with his captures in the Caribbean. Also, for example, we know from a newspaper of 1772 that when he returned from India he came back significantly more wealthy than when he left to the tune of around £100,000 (which in today’s money is in the region of 9 million pounds), of course, this may well be a slight exaggeration on the part of the media, but either way it was a significant sum.
20. What happened to Dido’s mother?
Maria Bell(e) remained in England until around 1774, Sir John purchased land for her in Pensacola where a house was built, No 6 Western Bayfront.
21. There was a ship launched in 1784, named HMS Dido, did it have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle?
Watch this space as more research into the possibility that it was named after her is in progress, especially as it tied in nicely with it being commissioned in 1782, around her 21st birthday and her father’s place in high society and his royal connections.
Today, I am delighted to welcome to All Things Georgian, Professor Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina whose new book, ‘Britain’s Black Past‘ (*see end) has just been published by Liverpool University Press and is also available from Amazon. Our paths crossed as a result of our shared interest in the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who features in the book.
Gretchen has been an Honorary Fellow at Exeter University, Eastman Professor at Oxford University, and professor of English at Brunel University. She is Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and amongst her numerous books, she has written ‘Black England: Life Before Emancipation’. With that introduction, I’ll now hand over to Gretchen to tell you more about how her latest book came to be written.
In 2015, I was contacted by a radio producer, Elizabeth Burke, proposing a ten-part series on early black Britain for the BBC. She had read my book Black England: Life Before Emancipation and thought that would like to put together a number of programmes we called “Britain’s Black Past,” exploring what to most Britons was the unfamiliar history. (You can also listen to the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 by clicking on this link).
My job, as an author with an extensive history of radio presenting, was to go with her to locations all over Britain to interview those who were making discoveries and bring their work to life in the studio. Together we climbed a hill in Wales, visited an enslaved boy’s grave in Morecombe Bay at low tide with Alan Rice, learned from academics led by Simon Newman in Glasgow who had put together a database of runaway enslaved people in Scotland.
In the studio, Elizabeth and I, with her colleagues, put it all together with further interviews, period music composed by the eighteenth-century shopkeeper and letter-writer Ignatius Sancho, whose letters were read aloud by the actor, Paterson Joseph.
The programmes were such a success when it aired in 2016, that it occurred to me that the finds of those who appeared on-air, and of those we were unable to include at the time, would make a terrific book.
Some of its contributors are academics, but others include independent researchers, a museum curator, an actor, a media specialist, and a lawyer turned biographer. In this book, you will meet an early black trumpeter who is the subject of blogs by Michael Ohajuru, and visit a Georgian house in Bristol where two very different enslaved people lived, explored in chapters by Madge Dresser and Christine Eickelmann.
Readers—even those familiar with some of the figures and history it explores—will find much to surprise them. Nathaniel Wells, the mixed-race son of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman on St Kitts, became his father’s heir. He was sent to England for education, and when he came into his contested inheritance built a grand house on his estate and pleasure gardens in Wales. He married twice to white Englishwomen, had numerous children, and became a magistrate and sheriff. His story is complicated by the fact that his money came from a slave plantation, and the only enslaved people he freed were related to him. His story results from the tireless research of Anne Rainsbury, Curator of the Chepstow Museum.
Francis Barber (the servant of Samuel Johnson), black sailors, and Soubise (the ne’er-do-well protégé of Ignatius Sancho) appear in chapters by Michael Bundock, Charles Foy, and Ashley Cohen. Sue Thomas gives a far more extensive context to the narrative of Mary Prince, whose narrative hugely influenced the British abolitionist movement.
Theresa Saxon follows the actor Ira Aldridge through his lesser-known performances in provincial theatres as well as in London, and the ways they were reported in the press.
Rafael Hoermann analyses the political speeches of the firebrand reformer Robert Wedderburn. Caroline Bressey moves forward into the Victorian period to examine how race made its way into literature and public discourse. And Kathleen Chater, whose important database of black people from Britain’s past has become a valuable resource for researchers, discusses the different ways that academics and genealogists contribute to our knowledge of the black past.
These stories may have taken place in the past, but they also live on in the present. Paterson Joseph was so taken by Sancho’s story of becoming independent and later being the first black man in England to cast a vote, that he wrote and performs in a one-man play that travelled from Britain to America.
My chapter reconsiders an ‘All Things Georgian’ favourite, Dido Elizabeth Belle, filling out more of her story but also looking at the ways it has been retold in television and film.
Ray Costello gives a longer history of race in Liverpool extending to the present day. And Vincent Carretta talks about the sometimes unpleasant aftermath to his discoveries about Olaudah Equiano.
It was a huge learning experience for me, but also tremendously rewarding to discover that all of these people, many of them unknown to each other, and others who knew of the others’ work but had never met them, are continuing to bring to light a past that is not past at all.
* Please be aware that right now Amazon appears to have sold out of copies and are not re-stocking at present due to the current COVID19 situation. However, copies of Gretchen’s book are available directly from her publisher Liverpool University Press. They are currently offering a 50% discount on all of of their ebooks as everything is becoming a little more digital at the moment. The discount code is EBOOKLUP
Today I have the honour to host a guest post about the famous 18th-century celebrity, Kitty Clive, by Dr Berta Joncus.
Berta is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Before joining Goldsmiths, she was at the University of Oxford: she took her doctorate there and was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow at St Catherine’s (2004–7), then music lecturer at St Anne’s and St. Hilda’s (2007–9). As a scholar, she focuses on the intersection in eighteenth-century vocal music of creative practice and identity politics.
Historians have typically described Kitty Clive as a fat, vain comedienne. My book reveals another artist altogether.
From her 1728 debut until 1748, Clive was an awe-inspiring songster who changed Georgian playhouse history. She was the first playhouse performer to make music the basis of her stardom. She upended hierarchies of taste, dazzling equally with smart airs, operatic pyrotechnics and raw street ballads.
Was she a cheeky minx, a refined siren, a leering vulgarian, or all or none of these? Audiences flocked to the playhouse to find out. Handel, Thomas Arne, Henry Fielding, David Garrick and others supplied vehicles for personae Clive re-invented on the boards, defying male authority through her ability to, as she once wrote, “turn it & wind it & play it in a different manner to his intention.”
Facing systemic discrimination against women, Clive strategized brilliantly. She had some lucky breaks: in 1728, as she prepared for her debut, the collapse of London’s Italian opera company deprived audiences of high-style song, and The Beggar’s Opera whetted appetites for low-style song.
Composer and singing master Henry Carey had groomed Clive to excel in operatic and ballad singing, and Drury Lane manager Colley Cibber, desperate to rival other houses, hired the seventeen-year-old on first hearing. Carey was Clive’s friend and ally, fitting her earliest parts to her strengths, whether as a singing goddess (in masques), a witty shepherdess (in ballad opera), or a sentimental heroine (in sung comedy). Like Carey, the playwrights Charles Coffey, James Miller, and William Chetwood – this last Drury Lane’s prompter, and Clive’s first biographer – designed flattering stage characters around her gifts.
But often Drury Lane managers’ casting disadvantaged Clive, forcing her to create her own opportunities. Performing in The Devil to Pay, a 1731 ballad opera that extolled wife-beating, she used the songs Coffey had added to transform Nell, scripted as the drab victim of her cobbler husband, into a tender, courageous heroine. Overnight, she became Drury Lane’s star of ballad opera as well as of serious song.
In 1732 Cibber replaced Carey with Fielding as Drury Lane’s author of Clive vehicles, driving the indebted Carey to suicide and saddling Clive with Fielding’s unsavoury characterizations – in comedies, epilogues and air verses – through which she nonetheless shone.
With success came marketing. Illustrator John Smith claimed that an image he had engraved of a bare-breasted nymph from an old Dutch oil was a likeness of Clive igniting a years-long battle over whether she was plain or comely.
Theatrical wars were an occupational hazard throughout Clive’s career. In 1733 Colley Cibber’s son Theophilus, angered by not being made Drury Lane’s manager, led an actors’ revolt that Clive refused to follow.
While pamphleteers attacked her, she shored up her reputation by appearing to marry into the genteel Clive family of Shropshire. This ‘union’ was perhaps the most brilliant invention of the former Kitty Raftor: it bestowed on her the status of a Clive while allowing her to keep her earnings, and hid the same-sex desires that both she and George Clive harboured. Kitty’s reputation for propriety – one satire glossed her as ‘Miss Prudely Crotchet’ – became a critical means for garnering sympathy once Theophilus Cibber returned victorious as Drury Lane’s deputy manager.
In 1736 the younger Cibber tried to steal Clive’s parts for his new wife, Susannah. Rewriting the rules of playhouse power, Clive ran a newspaper campaign about her rectitude and her right to her parts; this battle Theophilus lost, despite having the more credible behind-the-scenes account.
Dissimulation was one of Clive’s arts, and her ability to shape-shift made her a Town favourite. She appealed to wit, not sensuality, and claimed to speak for the middling sorts. In her airs and parts of the 1730s and 1740s, Clive protested against effeminate fops, foreign entertainers, men’s authority, Spain’s perfidy, and first minister Robert Walpole’s corruption.
‘The Clive’ stood for native taste in music (she was given two parts in London’s favourite masque, Comus), in legitimate drama (her Portia in The Merchant of Venice became legendary), and in celebrity connections (Handel wrote Samson for her to lead, and an elegant air for her 1740 benefit). In propria persona ‘Kitty’ roles multiplied, not least from the pen of Garrick, so that she could effervesce in the playhouse, season after season.
Clive’s very success sowed the seeds her failure. When in 1743 Drury Lane manager Charles Fleetwood cheated company members of their salaries, she co-led a company rebellion, prompting Fleetwood to claim that the house had been bled dry by stars’ outrageous salary demands.
He published Clive’s earnings, which were indeed large, and the perennial eagerness of the celebrity industry to consume its own children did the rest. Critics charged her with being vain, greedy, jealous and ambitious; a story was faked that she had been involved in a back-stage scuffle with rival actress Peg Woffington. In December 1745 Susannah Cibber engineered another press row with Clive, but this time readers believed her, not Clive. By 1747, Clive had lost her following.
Needing to work to support herself, her brother, and their household, Clive colluded with new Drury Lane manager Garrick to regain public favour. He re-cast her as a blousy, arrogant has-been whose saving grace was how cruelly she mocked herself. To verify Garrick’s version of her, Clive wrote and led self-incriminating in propria persona afterpieces; in her first such work, The Rehearsal, or Bays in Petticoats (1750), she also staged her farewell to serious song. Clive would again succeed at Drury Lane, where she would dominate for another twenty years, but in farce rather than art song or drama. She retired early and wealthy, but her former reputation as a vocal artist of rare skill, and an exponent of British virtues, was in tatters.
Kitty Clive’s rich, complex story, both familiar and foreign to our own celebrity-obsessed era, has been buried under mis-information for centuries. In Kitty Clive, or The Fair Songster, I invite readers to appreciate for the first time not only her achievements as a singer, actor, writer and self-manager, but also the obstacles she had to overcome and the compromises she had to make to reach, and regain, her leading position on the London stage.
For a signed author’s copy at £35.00 (or $45.00) posted free of charge, please email email@example.com.
To listen to the song Handel composed in 1740 for Clive, please to go this link.
Today, it is a pleasure to welcome another new guest to All Things Georgian, Peter Kennison, co-author of ‘Policing From Bow Street: Principal Officers, Runners and The Patroles’, who is going to tell us more about the early origins of policing, so I’ll hand over to him to tell more:
In 2014 Lucy Inglis was perceptive in her brilliant book Georgian London when she wrote that “Less has changed than you might think” something which is certainly true of Bow Street as the centre from which policing in the UK commenced.
Today the Bow Street Tavern exists at 37 Bow Street and if you are lucky enough to be invited down in the cellars you will see the dark damp cell where the Bow Street constables of the 1750s onwards lodged their prisoners. In their day the public house was called the Brown Bear and in 270 years only its name has changed. The Brown Bear was not only the prison for lodging prisoners by the court, but it was also the place where the so-called Bow Street runners took their refreshments. Situated Immediately opposite the public house was the Bow Street Public Office and courthouse at no. 4 Bow Street – originally established by the Trading Justice Sir Thomas De Veil.
The existing medieval system of watch and ward designed to police the masses was breaking down. Societal change and urban growth were destabilising the fabric of society. Weak, independent local Government added another layer of complexity and ineffectiveness. The playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding realised the ineffectiveness of the Parish Police Parochial Watch system that press-ganged traders and merchants into doing their civil duty for one year as Constables. Each Parish Watch operated independently within its own boundary, but since crime fails to respect boundaries many perpetrators escaped.
Crimes committed often went unreported and unrecorded for want of a real central police organisation. A further weakness in the law enforcement system inevitably bred public corruption and led to a deterioration in public morals. Unscrupulous and dishonest individuals found themselves in positions of power as Trading Justices, dispensing the law to a fee-paying public.
Public disorder became a problem; religious, political and social grievances expressed themselves in public scenes of dissatisfaction. Life on the Hogarthian margins was laid bare, with rampant prostitution, drunkenness, hooliganism, bawdy houses and civil disorder. Something had to be done.
The Runners were created by the playwright and magistrate Henry Fielding who in 6 short years created a plan of policing to combat the crime problems into principals we follow today. Fielding created his own constabulary of 6 trusted men taken from the 80 parish constables who had been elected in the City of Westminster for 1 year. This indicated that not many of those selected were up to the job. With the help of Sanders Welch the High Constable of Holborn they established rules in policing practice which every person who holds the office of constable today.
Later they were erroneously known as Runners was a title given to them by the newspapers in the 1780s at roughly the same time that the Bow Street Foot Patroles were introduced. The names and details of these six or so early policemen were deliberately kept secret by Fielding to avoid them being identified as constables nonetheless these were like-minded public-spirited individuals seeking the common good. But who were the men of Bow Street? Those intrepid constables who were the first Principal Officers of the court who from the start – learned the so-called “fundamentals of policing” or its perceptual blueprint. Henry Fielding became the first Stipendiary magistrate funded by the Government as he wished to distance himself from the corrupt practices he witnessed by the other Westminster Trading Justices in dispensing justice. He needed to build an honest reputation that would give confidence to victims and witnesses of crime to come forward and report what they knew. The Bow Street officers made good progress in ridding the streets and highways of dangerous Robbers and footpads.
Bow Street’s gradual success took on something akin to a mythical status. The myth attributed to the Runners was acquired in retrospect was of a group of active individuals who uncovered law-breaking and arrested felons. There was seemingly no hiding place for offenders and Bow Street always got their man, even though they were just a small group of no more than eight investigators.[i] What also added to this myth were numbers of other Bow Street constables because these were not just small numbers.
There were other patroles at Bow Street who supplemented the “Thief Takers”, and they sometimes numbered nearly 300. By the 1780s public signs of hostility over religious grievances caused public disorder resulting in military overreaction. A civil body was needed.
A Bow Street Foot patrole was created in 1782 numbering over 68 although a Bow Street Horse patrole had been experimented with in 1763 and whilst very successful only lasted a year when the Government withdrew funds. These mounted patroles, however, were resurrected in 1805 and later laid the basis of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch.
The Horse patrole consisted of 2 Inspectors, 4 deputy Inspectors and 54 constables. Then there were the 100 constables of the Dismounted Horse Patrole and by 1821 28 members of the uniformed day patrole so in the later stages of Bow Street they numbered 264 in total. The Runners built up a reputation based on their detective skills and investigated mainly property crime whilst the plain clothes heavily armed foot patroles went out onto the streets at dusk until midnight in groups of 5 operating out from Westminster to a distance of 4 miles. This was every day, 365 days a year and they became a familiar sight on the streets of Westminster Surrey, Kent, Essex and Middlesex becoming a familiar sight on London’s streets.
Fielding and Welch both instilled an esprit de corps that helped galvanise the group into an effective crime-fighting force. It was this spirit of comradery which contributed to the myth in what Critchley (1967) asserts:
This roisterous body of men some of whom made substantial fortunes out of shady business in trafficking in crime, undoubtedly… creating in their own lifetime the myth of the Bow Street Runners.
The success of Bow Street not only hinged on its mythical status, but the way Henry Fielding laid out his plan to combat crime was unique. This he termed as moving from “Madness to Method”. Once his constabulary was in place they went out onto the streets established informants for information on offenders who they paid them out of their own pockets and if successful they would pocket the state reward of up to £40 on successful conviction of a felony – a more serious crime.
He established Bow Street as the ‘Go to’ place to report their crimes where he had his men available to record these matters into Criminal Registers. These early Registers reported the time, place, method descriptions, value of property stolen, witnesses (+ their addresses) or either real or likely names (or pseudonyms) of suspects.
Prisoners were brought to his court on other matters where he had invited the general public to view proceedings and possibly identify likely perpetrators. Also invited were the newspapers who meticulously reported proceedings under the heading of Bow Street daily to a news-hungry public.
Fielding also established his own successful newspaper which he used to highlight particular crimes reported to Bow Street and these also included matters alerted to him at Bow Street from Magistrates in the shires surrounding London and sometimes beyond. On the report of a felony, a reserve of 2 Bow Street principal officers were waiting to take details, search the registers for descriptions before they ventured out at any time of the day or night on the fast response vehicle at the time – the horse. Fielding only selected those of his officers for the job if they were highly-skilled as good horsemen, often brave battle-hardened ex-cavalry soldiers who had served the army with credit. The men were well-trained, properly armed and good marksmen.
The constables appreciated the dangers of violence towards them under these circumstances and often went in sufficient numbers. His methods of sudden pursuit paid dividends since many highwaymen were swiftly caught and brought back to court to face examination. With an added confidence, soon more witnesses and victims of crime attended the court to make their reports, with each case being investigated and acted on quickly. Quick response has become a useful police strategy.
The Fieldings newspaper was the early forerunner to the Police Gazette still circulated to Police organisations today. Historians have viewed this part of police history at Bow Street Public Office as an irrelevance not to be taken seriously because little is known about the detail. The Whig historians claim that these later Runners were a corrupt group of men whose services could be bought or who would frame innocent people to gain the state (£40) reward. Whilst this was more true later at the turn of the century onwards the men of Bow Street were properly regulated, honest, public-spirited thief-takers.
These honest men were not to be confused with the common and disreputable thief-taker general, Jonathon Wild, whose corrupt gang fitted up unsuspecting people to claim the rewards. What seems to add fuel to this flame and probably a reason none of the runners were employed as Metropolitan Police detectives was that when for example, the most famous Bow Street Runner John Townsend died in 1832 he left investments totalling £25,000, getting on for £1,237,250 in today’s money and this was the same for other principal officers.
Peter’s book can be obtained from Mango Books by following the highlighted link, at £25 plus £3.55 postage for the hardcover cover. He also has a limited supply at £21 post free via PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org on a first-come, first-served basis.
[i] Beattie, J. M. (2012) The First English Detectives. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 264.
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