Today, I’d like to welcome back Mr RM Healey, who has recently written a guest post for All Things Georgian, about The Boyle Family and their Court Guides. Today, he is back to share some information from the account book of a Georgian, ‘Man About Town’. So with that, I’ll hand you over to him to tell you more:
Account books of the Georgian period are not exactly rare. Plenty can be found in County Record Offices, second-hand bookshops and auction rooms. Unfortunately, most are rather dull. Many simply record the day-to-day dealings of businessmen and farmers and from a socio-historical view remain too business-like to interest readers wishing to gain an idea of the everyday life of the average man-in-the street.
How refreshingly different is the one I am writing about here, which was acquired many years ago in a second hand bookshop. Along with the bald statements recording sums of money received from various sources– mainly his father– are the very interesting records of outgoings by this ( alas) anonymous gentleman in the final years of the Georgian period.
Although the name of the man does not appear in the document, names and places are peppered throughout it, so at some point it may be possible to identify him.
What we do know is that he appears to be associated with both with the East Riding of Yorkshire and with South Lincolnshire. For instance, he goes to tea twice in Kirk Ella, a village west of Hull, and pays visits to nearby Goole and Hull.
Later he goes on expeditions to places not too far away, such as Donington in Leicestershire, and Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. Having said that, he also attends a ‘Ball’ at Peterborough, from where he may have gone to another ball in Holbeach, which is only a few miles away. When he records an ‘expedition‘ to some of these places, we don’t feel that he is visiting friends or relations there, or he would surely have mentioned as much.
The bulk of the items on which he spends money suggest that he is young, that is to say, under forty. For instance, he appears to spend as much on personal grooming as he does on food. The regular monthly outlay of 6d. on ‘Hair cutting‘ over a five year period would seem to indicate that he regarded a close attention to his personal appearance as important.
Expenditure on gloves, ‘ribbands’, shoe-polishing, razors, lavender water, a new neckerchief and silk hat, a waistcoat and cravats, a new ribband and a new glass for his watch, in addition to payments to washerwomen, reinforce this theory. A single payment for new straps to his ‘skaits’ might also suggest that he is young enough to skate regularly; otherwise why would he need to replace the straps ?
Ice skating, which was brought to Britain by the Dutch in the late seventeenth century, was a popular pastime throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, and in the cold east side of England ponds and lake were often frozen over in winter.
Our young man made payments for rent and ‘board’ to different people even though we know that he received money from his father. Of course, this does not mean that he didn’t live at home with his parents for some of the time.
He had an account with a wine merchant, which suggests maturity of a kind. On the other hand, his regular (many times a month) expenditure on such snacks as oranges, walnuts ( arguably the most popular nut in Georgian times), gingerbread, a gooseberry tart or two and other pastries, suggests that in his fondness for ‘fast food’ he was no different in this respect from other young men of his time, or indeed our own.
Also, his liking for ginger beer, which he drank regularly, could be another sign that he had a north of England upbringing. The beverage was, and perhaps still is, more popular in the northern counties than in the south. In 1817, it was sold in powdered form ( presumably as a mixture of ginger powder, sugar and bicarbonate of soda) at the bookshop and stationer run by J. Cragg in Hull. ‘ Soda Water powder ‘( sodium bicarbonate again) was sold at the same shop. Incidentally, it would be good to know if he bought his favourite pastries from bakers and confectioners to eat in the street or in his digs, or whether he patronised eating houses. It is a shame that we know so little about the extent to which the practice of consuming snacks in eateries established for this purpose, such as the premises depicted in caricatures of the time.
Reading, or at least the purchase of books or magazines, does not seem to occupy much of much of our young man’s time, unless of course magazines and newspapers were classed under ‘sundries’, which was a frequent heading in the account book.
The purchase of only three books– A History of Barbados, Cowper’s Poems, and Walter Scott’s Waverley is recorded over the five year period. Of course, he may have belonged to a circulating library, though no such expenditure features in the accounts.
If we compare the diaries of other young men, where the purchase of books features regularly, it is perhaps safe to assume that our well turned out man was not a scholar and certainly not a radical thinker. In fact, the regular payment of two shillings to a ‘Mechanics Institute‘, the organisation set up in Edinburgh in 1821 by the educationalist George Birkbeck to teach scientific and technological principles to young working men, strongly indicates that he was more interested in pursuing a vocational, rather than an academic education.
But what else do we know about his values? Expenditure on comestibles and self-grooming items tell us only so much. Perhaps we should look to the other expenditure in the account book. He was, for instance, a subscriber to the Society for the Support and Encouragement of Sunday Schools, which had been going since 1785, and the Missionary Society for Propagating the Gospel in Heathen and unenlightened Countries, which was instigated ten years later. He was a churchgoer, though not a regular one. He recorded a donation to a collection box. He also gave 6d to a ‘poor woman’.
But arguably the most intriguing item of expenditure he records is the 1s. 6d he gave to the ‘Jewish Society’ in 1826. This doesn’t suggest that he was Jewish or that he was sympathetic to the Jewish community in Britain. The Royal Kalendar for 1827 lists no such society, but it does mention the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, which was established in 1809. In 1827 its leading lights included William Wilberforce, and such prominent City of London figures as Matthew Wood and Sir Thomas Baring. This would suggest that our young man, like many others of his time, feared that if the clamour for Catholic Emancipation succeeded, the lifting of restrictions on Jews, which, for instance, prevented them from being elected to Parliament, might easily follow. But as it turned out, despite the efforts of William Huskisson in 1829 to present a petition of 2,000 from Liverpool urging the abolitions of restrictions on Jews, these disabilities remained. Benjamin Disraeli could only enter Parliament because he had converted to Christianity when a young man.
Finally, though apparently conventional and even conservative in his outlook, our young man about town took his pleasures seriously. He paid frequent (at least once a month) visits to the theatre, to a ‘theatre mechanical’ and also attended a ‘choral concert‘.
One of his favourite vices was card games, at which he doesn’t appear to have been too successful. He bought a new card case for two shillings and a set of cards, but at the beginning of 1827 he played three times and lost a total of five shillings. At the end of May 1827 he recorded losing 4s. 6d. and in March 1829 3s. No losses are recorded in the rest of the account book, which ends in June 1829.
Cragg’s Guide to Hull ( Hull, J. Cragg 1817)
The Royal Kalendar for 1827( London 1827)
Jon Stobart, Sugar and Spice: Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650 – 1830 (Oxford 2013)
I am delighted to welcome a new guest to all Things Georgian, Charmian Kenner, a researcher and writer on women’s history, with a special interest in Latin America, who lives in Hastings, and who is going to tell us about someone I had never heard of, but who led a most remarkable life. With that, I’ll hand you over to Charmian:
How did a young woman from Yorkshire meet a Venezuelan revolutionary in the year 1800? Sarah Andrews was born in 1774 in the East Yorkshire town of Market Weighton, while Francisco de Miranda began his life thousands of miles away in Caracas, Venezuela. Yet they were to become partners, and their London home served as a British headquarters for the struggle to liberate Latin America from Spanish rule.
There are monuments to Francisco de Miranda throughout Latin America. But we do not even have a picture of Sarah Andrews, and her grave in Kensal Green cemetery was unmarked and neglected until found by a descendant four generations later. Today her gravestone, placed by the Venezuelan government in 2013, commemorates Sarah as ‘a supporter of revolutionaries who changed the world’.
My book Revolutionary Partners: Sarah Andrews and British Campaigners for Latin American Independence tells Sarah’s story through letters she wrote to Francisco de Miranda when he was away fighting in Venezuela from 1805-1807, while she held the fort in London and raised their two sons Leander and Francisco. Sarah emerges as a resourceful activist, combining politics and motherhood in the face of poverty and discrimination. But how did she become involved in the Latin American cause?
Revolutionary ideas were rife around the world in the late 18th century. When Sarah was a teenager, the whole of England was in a furore about the French Revolution. She would have heard radical opinions via her shoemaker father John – shoemakers’ shops, along with pubs, were places where customers gathered to discuss the issues of the day. We know little of Sarah’s early life, but by 1800 she had moved to London, probably amongst the thousands of young women who sought domestic work in the capital.
Across the Atlantic, Francisco de Miranda had grown up in Caracas as part of the ‘criollo’ aristocracy, who were born in Latin America from Spanish origins but now chafing under the yoke of Spain. After fighting as a General in the French Revolution, he came to London on a mission. He wanted prime minister William Pitt to provide finance and troops to free Venezuela and indeed the whole of Latin America. The reward for Britain would be huge business opportunities in countries that currently could only trade with Spain.
We do not know exactly how Sarah and Francisco met, though it may have been through Sarah’s uncle Stephen Hewson, who was a portrait painter in London. On 9th February 1800 Francisco wrote in his diary that when he returned to his lodgings in New Road (now Euston Road), ‘Sally’ told him of a visitor who called while he was out. Sally was Francisco’s affectionate name for Sarah, and their relationship is intriguing.
It is not clear whether ‘Sally’ was a servant at this point or sharing Francisco’s home. There was a considerable age gap between them – Francisco was 49 years old and Sarah was 25. In 1802 they moved into their long-term home, 27 Grafton Street (now 58 Grafton Way), an elegant new house that they rented in the Fitzrovia area of London. In his will dated 1805, Francisco refers to Sarah as ‘mi fiel ama de llaves [my faithful housekeeper] Sarah Andrews’, recognising her important role in running the household.
By this time Sarah and Francisco were parents; their first child Leandro was nearly two and Sarah was pregnant with his brother Francisco. Were they married? No marriage certificate has ever been found, but Sarah was Protestant and Francisco was Catholic, so their marriage might not have taken place at an Anglican church as was then required. It may even have happened in secret.
Whether or not they were married, Sarah and Francisco were evidently committed to each other and shared a passionate dedication to the Latin American cause. Sarah wrote eloquently to Francisco in the hope that his 1805 expedition to Venezuela ‘will live a glorious example of Justice and Humanity and may your victories in the New World be a Pattern to all Nations, as you will be shown to reign in the hearts of the people, as you do, and ever will in mine’.
Meanwhile Francisco made it clear that Sarah was a valued partner in his campaign, writing that ‘I want you as much as anybody else to carry in execution, and terminate with success my schemes’. He depended on Sarah to maintain the Grafton Street household, the key point of contact for political and diplomatic supporters.
But Sarah had a herculean task. At times there was not enough money for food, and she sacrificed her own needs: ‘I live on and get a little bit of meat for my dearest Children and Servant, if there is any left I have it but [not] for a week together, until I am so weak, that I am always crying, and I cannot help it’.
Despite these harsh conditions and a threat of eviction, Sarah managed to keep the house and prevent Francisco’s beloved book collection from being sold. At six thousand volumes, it was the largest private library in London and a vital resource for campaigners. She also kept faith with her purpose as a radical mother, bringing up three-year-old Leander to believe in the Latin American cause.
Finally, Francisco returned on New Year’s Day 1808. His expedition – organised alone when support from Britain did not materialise – had been unsuccessful. However, Latin American nations soon began to declare independence from Spain, with Venezuela being the first in 1810. Sarah and Francisco hosted Simón Bolívar, the future Liberator of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama, at Grafton Street when he visited London with a Venezuelan delegation to meet British politicians and influential supporters.
Francisco de Miranda returned to Venezuela and became the country’s Generalissimo, its supreme military commander, but the Spanish mounted a huge campaign to retake their colonial possession and captured him in triumph. He wrote his last letter to Sarah from prison in Cádiz, Spain, where he was to die in July 1816. Addressing her as ‘my very dear Sally’, Francisco says ‘nothing gives me greater pain than knowing that you are in distress’. His final words are ‘Goodbye, dear and afflicted friend, and give my love to the little ones’.
Sarah’s distress must indeed have been severe, but she did not give up the fight. She is said to have kept a candle burning in the window of Grafton Street for the revolution. The house became an important recruiting station for the Legión Británnica, British volunteers who went to Latin America to fight with Bolívar from 1817 onwards. Such recruitment was illegal, but when government agents came to arrest the activists, Sarah barred the door against them.
The Legión Británnica scaled the icy heights of the Andes with Bolívar’s army to take the Spanish by surprise, and played a significant part alongside dedicated troops who finally achieved the liberation of their countries. Sarah’s mission as a radical mother was vindicated when both Leander and Francisco went to Latin America to join the struggle.
Sarah’s story is told in full, along with those of other British women who travelled to Latin America with the Legión Británnica and witnessed the dawn of a new society, in my book Revolutionary Partners, available FREE here (Click on the highlighted link).
Today, I am delighted to welcome back Judith Pearson who has previously written a guest post for All Things Georgian about a portrait by George Romney, but today’s story is very different as you will soon find out.
The Truxtun Bowl is a popular U.S. Navy collectible; a memento of The Age of Sail, a piece of memorabilia relating to the formation of the U.S. Navy. It is often given to naval officers as a retirement gift, or as an award to people serving in U.S. naval history organizations.
Truxtun bowls are replicas of two identical Chinese porcelain bowls owned by Commodore Thomas Truxtun, USN. In 1794 he was appointed as the fourth most senior captain in the newly-formed U.S. Navy to oversee the building of the Navy’s first frigates. That year, to illustrate a book he was writing about navigation, Truxtun asked naval architect, Josiah Fox, for a drawing of a 44-gun frigate. He later commissioned two punch bowls featuring Fox’s drawing.
Fox’s drawing can be found on the inside of the bowl: A frigate under full sail and framed by a blue and gold border on the inner rim. Side views show the lovely gold and blue trim around the outer rim. The bottom of the bowl displays the fouled anchor, attesting, in gold lettering:
Naval Historical Foundation, Truxtun Bowl, Fine Porcelain Replica, copyright 2017 DMA, Designmasters.com, Crafted in China, TK-710-001
Many people recognize the bowl and appreciate its beauty and simplicity of style. Few people, even those who own a Truxtun bowl know about the man himself – his daring and skill as a merchant mariner, a privateer, and a naval officer, his reputation as a navigator, his knowledge of ship construction, and his amazing rise to the highest levels of early U.S. society.
Let me tell you something about Truxtun’s life, so that when you see (or own) a Truxtun bowl, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the man.
Thomas Truxtun was born in 1755 to a prosperous farming family on Long Island, New York. His father was an English barrister, previously living in Jamaica. His mother died before Thomas was six.
From age six to twelve he attended boarding school. His father died when Thomas was ten. At twelve, he went to sea as an apprentice. For the next seven years he worked on British merchant ships.
At 19, ashore in London, Truxtun was pressed into the Royal Navy, aboard the third-rate HMS Prudent (64). Refusing the opportunity to become a midshipman, he returned to New York. At age 20, he married Mary Vandrau, who was 15. Over the next 35 years, they had twelve children, ten of which survived to adulthood.
At age 20 he began commanding his own merchant ships. With the country entering a war for independence from Britain, Truxtun also became a privateer. He sailed the Caribbean, dodging British warships, taking British merchant ships as prizes, and returning with rum, sugar, spices, and much needed supplies for the Continental Army, including something they needed desperately – gun powder. Twice he was forced to surrender his ship and his cargo to the Royal Navy as a prize.
Truxtun took command of Mars in 1777, of 22 carriage guns, 12 swivel guns and 150 men. Destination: The English Channel, where he took six prizes – all British merchant ships. In 1778 he bought the ship, Lydia, on borrowed money. She was badly damaged in a gale, but Truxtun brought her home, supervised her refit, and changed her name to Independence. With Independence, he carried on as a successful trader and privateer for the next two years.
In 1781, Truxtun took command of St. James and sailed from Philadelphia to France. Two days out, he encountered a British privateer. A battle ensued with both ships badly damaged. After the British withdrew, Truxtun made repairs and continued on to France. He returned to Philadelphia in March 1782, where he attended a dinner for General George Washington, who commended Truxtun for his contributions to the war effort. Philadelphia merchants applauded Truxtun for his skill and daring.
With the colonies gaining independence from Britain in 1783, Truxtun formed a partnership with James Collins and opened a dry goods store. Eager to establish trade with Britain, Truxtun made three voyages to England, bringing back rich cargos. By 1784, however, American coastal cities were saturated with imports and many trading houses were collapsing. Truxtun and Collins sold Commerce to pay their creditors. The partnership dissolved, with Collins declaring bankruptcy. Truxtun refused to declare bankruptcy, instead promising to repay his investors. He spent the next few years paying down his debts.
In 1785, the Donnaldson and Coxe trading house commissioned a new ship, the London Packet; an elegant passenger/cargo vessel. Truxtun accepted command and took her to Europe. That summer, an infirm, 80-year old Benjamin Franklin took passage on the ship after eight years in France, where he had represented the U.S. at the Court of Versailles. Also on board: the sculptor, Antoine Houdon who was traveling to Mount Vernon to execute a bust of General Washington. Arriving in Philadelphia, Franklin was greeted with a gala reception.
Truxtun next entered into trade with China. With financing, he had the London Packet overhauled, renaming her, Canton, and sailed her to Canton in 1785. Historians credit Truxtun with opening U.S. trade with China, because the Chinese turned away other American traders, regarding their goods as inferior. Canton, however, carried American-grown ginseng, which the Chinese valued as a cure-all.
At Canton, Truxtun spent months navigating a complex labyrinth of Chinese laws and customs that required payments, inspections, negotiations and ceremonies with a hierarchy of officials, merchants and local rulers. He returned to Philadelphia a year and a half later. He completed a second voyage in June 1789. Later that year, several businessmen bought Canton. They hired Truxtun to take her to China, by way of India. He sailed as far as Calcutta, where he was a guest of Governor General, Lord Cornwallis. Noting that his ship was in disrepair and not fit for the voyage, he returned to Philadelphia, arriving in April 1791, with many in his crew suffering from scurvy.
That year, Truxtun commissioned his own ship, Delaware. He had her coppered in England. From there, loaded with British goods, she sailed for India. Arriving at Madras, Truxtun traded for spices and piece goods. He hired a French ship to take some of the cargo to England, while he travelled on to Hamburg. Then he returned to England. He left Delaware in London, under the care of an associate, and booked passage to Philadelphia, arriving in the spring of 1793.
England and France were at war again. The Royal Navy seized the ship he hired in France. In 1793 he booked passage to London, expecting to take command of Delaware and renew trade with India. However, with a war in progress, Truxtun tried to sell Delaware at auction, but the bidding was so low that he bought her for £3,000, paid for extensive repairs, hired a crew, and took her home, stocked with cargo for trading. Truxtun was gaining a reputation as a skilful and prudent mariner, a shrewd entrepreneur, and a man of integrity.
In 1794, Congress authorized the formation of the U.S. Navy. President Washington selected Truxtun as one of six captains to oversee the building of the Navy’s first frigates. Truxtun served for seven years under three presidents. He earned fame in the Quasi War with France as commander of the fifth-rate frigate, USS Constellation (38). Under Truxtun’s command, Constellation won two battles against the French frigates L’Insurgente and La Vengeance, respectively. For his heroism, Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal. He was also made a member of the Society of the Cincinnati.
When the Barbary Wars began, he was assigned to command the Mediterranean Squadron in his flagship, the fifth-rate frigate, USS Chesapeake (38). However, he resigned in 1802 when the Secretary of the Navy did not give him enough officers. He later regretted his decision, and applied for reinstatement, but his request was ignored.
Truxtun retired as a gentleman farmer, but he continued his involvement in politics and public affairs. In a final act of public service, he served as High Sheriff of Philadelphia County. He died in 1822. American naval historians revere Truxtun for his bravery, audacity, and tenacity, for his seamanship, and his loyalty to the country. Five U.S. Navy ships have been named after Truxtun. The latest one is the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, USS Truxtun, DDG-103.
And what of the Truxtun bowls? Years after his death, Truxtun’s own bowl was donated to the Naval Historical Foundation in Washington, DC, where it is now on display in the Navy Museum in the city’s naval dockyard.
The companion bowl, which he presented to President George Washington, is on display in Washington’s Virginia home, Mount Vernon. Replicas can be purchased at the Navy Museum store in the Washington, DC Navy Yard, and they occasionally turn up on eBay.
When you know the story of Truxtun, you’ll understand why the bowl is a collector’s treasure.
Naval Historical Foundation, Navy Museum Store website
Eugene S. Ferguson, Truxtun of the Constellation (Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins Press, 1956).
U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command website.
Judith originally published this story in the Autumn 2021 issue of the Kedge Anchor of the 1805 Club. The Naval Historical Foundation was subsumed by the U.S. Naval Institute, in Annapolis, Maryland in 2023.
It’s a pleasure to welcome guests back to All Things Georgian, and today we have another guest post from Mr R M Healey who is going to enlighten us about the Boyle Court Guides.
Since 1792, when it was established by Patrick Boyle, Boyle’s Court Guides, in the words of the 1819 edition, sought to contain ‘an alphabetical arrangement of the names and places in town and country, of all the Ladies and Gentlemen of Fashion’ in London. This was a significant innovation.
Since the mid eighteenth century the annual Royal Kalendar listed names and addresses of members of both Houses of Parliament, those holding office in the Royal Household as well as Officers of the State, Law, Revenue and other departments, senior officers in the Army and Navy, senior members of the clergy, and those running ‘Literary, Scientific and Charitable Institutions’ in England, Scotland , Ireland and the Colonies.
However, people falling outside these categories, who may have seen themselves as worthy of notice, were excluded. Boyle’s Guides represented a deliberate attempt to remedy this situation.
Thus, along with many of those who might also appear in the Royal Kalendar, Boyle welcomed entries from many who didn’t, including minor members of the aristocracy, both British and European, individuals with private means, scientists, inventors, artists, architects, writers and successful men of business. There was no charge for inclusion or even for alterations of address, which certainly must have encouraged people to come forward. What we don’t know, unfortunately, was whether the Boyles exercised some sort of screening process to ensure that certain undesirable people were excluded.
In the same edition we find, in the words of Eliza Boyle, who took over the Guides on the death of Patrick in 1808, ‘a separate register of all the fashionable streets’ for the use of ‘Porters in the Hall, Servants, &c.‘ Thus ‘the Reader may see at one view, and become acquainted, in an Instant, with the Names of the various Persons of Fashion, according to the Numbers in each Street’. Such a register would have been useful for those who wished to know if someone of interest or ‘fashion’ lived close to them.
Naturally, of course, Boyle could only include those who came forward. Then, as now, there were those who wished to be ex-directory, possibly for security reasons. There was no attempt to supply an exhaustive list of residents in London. This came later with the Guides published by Pigot from the 1820s onwards, where in addition to a ‘court’ section, the names and addresses of those offering a commercial service became possible.
The Boyle Guides continued to be published up to 1924, along with the better known Kelly’s Directories, which suggests that there was still a need, even in the age of the telephone directory, for a specialist guide of this type.
By 1819 Eliza Boyle was editing the Guides from 15, Leicester Place, a short street off the better known Leicester Square, where her neighbours included two surgeons and a partnership of attorneys.
In 1823, the newspapers were reporting that Eliza was bankrupt, so it would appear that the following year she paired up with her son George and by 1829 the upwardly mobile couple had relocated to the more fashionable 284, Regent’s Street where along with solicitors they were surrounded by bankers, artists and several architects, including such eminent practitioners as J. P. Gandy Dering, Lewis Vulliamy and ( at number 14) John Nash himself, who had been responsible for much of Regent Street.
The new premises also offered ‘ Copper-plate engraving, printing and lithography ‘ as well as ‘embossing‘. Lithography had only been invented comparatively recently, which suggests that the Boyles were anxious to promote themselves as a truly ‘modern’ and up to date concern.
Patrick Boyle, as part of his business plan, had devised a card-delivery scheme for his clientele. This must have become rather popular, for by 1819 Eliza ran an advert in the Guide for that year:
The number of Subscribers to the plan of delivering Cards &c having been, during the last season, so very great has induced E.B. to alter and enlarge her method, whereby a speedy and correct delivery will be certain.
Eliza then presented her table of charges for the various services offered:
For a Lady or Gentleman , head of a Family, and all unmarried daughters, residing in One House, for delivering Visiting Cards, Cards of Invitation, Thanks &c. for One Season, from the date of the Receipt which will expire at August next- £2 2
To Non-Subscribers, for once delivering Cards of Thanks, Visits, Routs, Masks, Balls, Concerts &c. under 300, the whole to be sent to the Office at once, directed and ready for delivery – £1 1s
And if above 300 £1 11s 6
For arranging & writing a Visiting Book in Alphabetical order, not above 300 names. £1 11s 6
Exceeding that number £2 2s 0
As postage was expensive until a uniform rate of one penny was established by Rowland Hill in 1840, such a scheme must have been regarded as a great blessing, even to the well-heeled. But with all such money-making enterprises, fraud was a problem.
In April 1819 Eliza warned the Nobility and Gentry to be aware of ‘impostors’ who ‘under the pretence that they are employed by her demanded money for alterations or insertions.’
On the contrary, Eliza explained:
The men employed by E.B. are forbidden, under pain of prosecution, to make any such demand.
Evidently, these fraudulent practices persisted, for in 1829 the warning was reissued. It would be interesting to study some cases involving demands for money, which seem to be similar in nature to the various email and phone scams that plague us today.
In May 1829, Eliza married again, and her husband, Peter Paul O’Callaghan joined Eliza and her son in the business. Eliza died in 1836, and her will she was very specific about the publication continuing and being printed and published by her husband, after being edited by her son.
As always, it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome back guests to All Things Georgian, and today, we have the lovely Elaine Thornton who is going to tell us the fascinating story of ‘The Mysterious Mrs Rudd‘.
One of the most spectacular scandals of the 1770s was a forgery trial involving identical twin brothers of French Huguenot descent and a femme fatale with a murky past and a flair for publicity. The story unfolded in a series of twists and turns that gripped the public for nearly a year.
The three people involved in the fraud were the twins Robert and Daniel Perreau, respectively an apothecary and a stock jobber, and Daniel’s mistress, Margaret Caroline Rudd, known as Caroline, who lived with him and passed as his wife. Robert Perreau was the quieter of the brothers, happily married and hard-working. Daniel was more flamboyant: a gambler, with a taste for the high life. Despite their different characters, the twins were devoted to each other.
Caroline Rudd was an enigmatic figure: Irish by birth, she claimed to be descended from nobility. She had an enormous amount of charm, and always appeared elegantly and fashionably dressed. In fact, her father was an apothecary, and she was a former prostitute who had left her husband, a half-pay lieutenant, and lived on her wits on the fringes of society.
The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd were accused of forging bonds. It was common for money to be lent to borrowers on the strength of a bond, which was basically a guarantee, signed by a third party, who the lender knew to be wealthy enough repay the loan if the borrower defaulted. Forging bonds was a capital offence, as it undermined the basis of trust that the credit system was built on.
The scam carried out by the trio appeared to be a dazzlingly simple way to make money out of a series of forged bonds. The scheme involved borrowing an initial amount of money on a bond with a faked guarantor signature, and then borrowing enough money on a second forged bond both to pay off the first debt, and to make a profit. The chain of bonds could be extended indefinitely. Of course, the scheme relied on no one checking personally with the guarantor.
Around April 1774, the Perreau brothers began taking out loans on bonds supposedly guaranteed by William Adair, a wealthy army agent, for sums of up to £6,000. Adair’s name was probably chosen because Caroline Rudd knew his cousin, James Adair. The scheme ran successfully for nearly a year, until Robert Perreau took a bond for £7,500 to Drummonds bank on 7 March 1775. The Drummond brothers, who knew Adair, suspected the bond was a fake. Adair confirmed that the signature was not his, and denied knowing any of the three people involved.
The fraud unravelled quickly. By 12 March, Robert, Daniel and Caroline had all been arrested. They promptly turned on one another. Robert and Daniel both blamed Caroline, claiming that she had tricked them into believing that both William and James Adair were old family friends of hers. The brothers insisted that they had thought the bonds were genuine.
Caroline claimed that the twins were the instigators: she admitted faking the signature on the final bond, but said she had only done so out of fear of Daniel, who had forced her to sign at knife-point. She painted a pathetic scenario of virtuous female helplessness in the face of male violence and threats.
The initial hearing at Bow Street on 15 March had to be moved to the Guildhall because of the crowds: the papers reported that ‘every coach in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden was taken, and the street lined on both sides’. The case fascinated the public, with its heady mix of social ambition, sex and crime lurking beneath apparent respectability.
At the hearing, Caroline gave a superb performance of bewildered innocence. She was so convincing that she was permitted to turn King’s evidence against the Perreaus, giving her immunity from prosecution. She was set free, while the twins were committed to prison.
The newspapers quickly took sides. The Morning Chronicle vilified Caroline as the ringleader, and depicted the Perreau brothers as her dupes. The Morning Post championed Caroline, and serialised her ‘case’ before any trial had taken place. Caroline had an instinctive understanding of PR, and seized the opportunity to present her version of the story to a wide public.
Readers were divided in their opinions. Some accepted her depiction of herself as a woman of high birth and good breeding, who found herself in unfortunate circumstances through no fault of her own. Others disbelieved her account; one correspondent, who appeared to know a good deal about her past, accused her of a history of prostitution and extortion, provoking a series of angry exchanges in print between her supporters and detractors.
The trial of the Perreau brothers opened on 1 June in a blaze of publicity. Caroline attended, expecting to be called as a Crown witness. On the first day, the presiding judge made a dramatic announcement: in his view, the magistrates at the initial hearing had no legal right to offer Mrs Rudd immunity in exchange for evidence. This was a stunning blow for Caroline. She was taken straight from the court to Newgate prison and committed for trial.
Despite their insistence that they were Caroline’s victims, and the confusion caused among witnesses by their strong resemblance to one another, the Perreau twins were found not guilty of forging the bonds, but guilty of attempting to cash the bonds knowing they were false. Knowingly passing forged bonds was a capital crime, and four days later, the brothers were sentenced to death. However, their sentences would not be carried out until after Caroline’s trial.
Another woman in Caroline’s place might have despaired at this point, but she was a survivor. She threw herself into another sustained PR campaign through the pages of the Morning Post, proclaiming her own innocence, and the treachery of the Perreaus.
Caroline’s trial was delayed several times, but finally took place in December 1775. By that time, the Perreaus had been in prison under sentence of death for six months. Despite a strong case against her as the forger of the bonds, the jury sensationally acquitted her – although, as Horace Walpole commented drily, ‘nobody questions her guilt’.
The Perreau twins were hanged on 17 January 1776, protesting their innocence to the last. Touchingly, they held hands as they stood on the scaffold. Caroline lay low for a while, but her ambiguous reputation for glamour and danger remained. James Boswell visited her several times shortly after the trial, and was intrigued by her, but drew back, wary of the woman he compared to ‘that snake which fascinates with its eyes’ – although he did have a brief affair with her years later.
Caroline Rudd spent time in prison for debt in the 1780s, and died in obscurity, probably around 1800.
To this day, the truth behind her involvement in one of the most sensational criminal trials of the Georgian era has never been established.
I am delighted to welcome to All Things Georgian, Sharon Butler, from the Early Dance Circle, who joins me today to publicise their upcoming event, which may well be of interest to you. With that, I will hand you over to Sharon:
THE EARLY DANCE CIRCLE BRINGS ALIVE OUR DANCE TRADITIONS
For 40 years, The Early Dance Circle has promoted the enjoyment, performance and study of European dance from the 15th to the 20th century. Our website, will tell you all about us and our many activities as a small charity and an umbrella group for dancers all over the UK. The dances of Britain play a large part in this long history.
From time to time we sponsor events and here I want to tell you about our next one. It fits with our aims perfectly and offers some superb entertainment from the Georgian era as well. Try not to miss it.
A NIGHT OUT TO DISCOVER THE DANCE & MUSIC OF GEORGIAN LONDON
The Remarkably Talented Mr Weaver Presents… an evening of drama, baroque music, song and dance the London of 1717
Join the Weaver Ensemble onstage to celebrate the 350th anniversary of John Weaver, choreographer, impresario and creator of the first ballet. Two comic romances, filled with notated baroque dance and authentic period music, make an entertaining introduction to his world.
You can experience the vivid performance potential of 18th century theatre on the London stage at the Marylebone Theatre on 21 January, 7:30 pm.
I am thrilled to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Jenny Newbold who has recently published a fictional book, ‘The Private Misadventures of Nell Nobody’ which was published in June 2022 by Luminare Press. It is an historical-fiction/adventure novel featuring Admiral Lord Nelson and a gender-ambiguous protagonist, examining from ‘Ned’s’ perspective the events of Horatio Nelson’s first tour of the Mediterranean.
Without further ado, I will hand over to Jenny to tell you more about women at sea.
When you envision the eighteenth century British navy, I can guess what you might see in your mind’s eye. Noble, self-sacrificing officers. Hardy tars with hearts of oak. The triumph of The Nile, the glory of Trafalgar, wreaths of laurel and cypress for the honour rolls of the wounded, dead, and missing. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Royal Navy during the heroic Age of Sail was exclusively a man’s world. After all, that’s what the Admiralty Board wanted you to believe.
There are no official records of women serving aboard warships in the Georgian Royal Navy, because officially, women were not allowed on board. With the possible exception of the captain’s wife (at his discretion), according to the Admiralty the only woman to be found on one of its ships would be the occasional passenger.
Reality, however, is a different story.
Women (and children) may not have been entered on the muster books and victualled, but they were part of the fabric of the warship. Most were probably wives: of officers, marines, and even occasionally ratings (ratings were seamen who were not commissioned or warrant officers). They had a legitimate reason for being there, even if they were notofficially there. Interestingly, I have come across evidence of wives of captains, warrant officers, and marines shipboard, but no wives of lieutenants. Since wives were there at the discretion of the captain, it might have been an unspoken opinion that a lieutenant didn’t need a wife distracting him from executing his orders.
There were other women—of a certain persuasion—who came aboard when the ship was in port and who might not leave when the ship prepared to depart. There were wives, and then there were ‘wives’. If the officers’ wives were unofficial, one of these stowaways was practically invisible. Her survival aboard depended on the generosity of the man, or men, she was attached to, since she would have to share his hammock and his provisions.
Even for the legitimate wives, life on a warship cannot have been particularly pleasant. They would not have had their own quarters or their own rations. An officer’s wife might have the privacy of her husband’s partitioned-off sleeping place at night, but if you were the wife of a private soldier or an ordinary seaman, you slept in his hammock, both of you, 14 to 16 inches away from the next man (and whoever might or might not be sharing his hammock). Granted, you might get the hammock all to yourself for the four hours your husband was on watch, but you still slept in the same space with perhaps one hundred other men/wives/children.
Babies were inevitably born aboard. Presumably giving birth at sea was not much worse than giving birth on land—despite the apparent belief by some of the men that firing the great guns would hasten the birth process. I’m not sure science would back that up, but if the commander didn’t mind expending the powder, I don’t suppose it hurt to try.
On troopships, women travelling ‘on the strength’ were official – but on the army’s books, not those of the navy. These were soldiers’ wives, accompanying their husbands on campaign. The British Army allowed three women per one hundred men to travel with their regiment. Accommodations for them would not have been any better, but they were indisputably, officially, aboard.
What did these women do aboard? Unless they were passengers, they were almost certainly expected to contribute to the overall well-being of the ship. The Georgian military expected that if they were going to provision a woman, they would get their money’s worth.
So, a woman had to pull her own weight, although presumably not on the ship’s lines! In the official muster-rolls and quarter bills, however, all the roles in a well-governed warship were filled by men. What then, did she do?
I suppose we have to speculate a little here. It was very unlikely that she cooked. The ship had a cook whose job it was to manage the galley. The men in each mess (a mess was a group of men who ate together) rotated through the role of mess cook, retrieving the cooked food from the galley. I imagine no one wanted women anywhere near the stove. Rations were closely apportioned, and trust was not in great supply; everyone from the men to the officers probably suspected that the women were capable of thieving.
A woman probably maintained her man’s clothing, and conceivably might have done the same occasionally for his mates. Sir John Jervis, Admiral St Vincent, got snappish now and then about the women aboard using the fresh water, intended for cooking and drinking, for washing clothes. (St Vincent also, at one point, decided that the fleet’s lieutenants were getting rather podgy and decreed that they should not be allowed to use the ships’ entry ports, but be made to climb over the side. He sounds as though he could be quite a curmudgeon: it must have been an experience to serve under him!)
Much is made—and rightly so—of women participating in battle. But on a warship, everyone participated in battle, with the exception of passengers, who might have chosen to but probably were not expected to do so. Untrained in naval warfare, women probably carried powder from the ship’s magazines to the guns, or assisted on the surgeon’s deck, mopping up or giving whatever comfort and assurance they could offer to the wounded. Either job would have been horrific. It is unlikely there were any tasks in battle that were not.
Finally, there were the fighting women, the ones who the navy really did not see. They were the ones whose presence was cloaked in disguise, determination, and/or desperation. It is possible to find a handful of documented accounts of women who served, disguised as men, in the armies and navies of the age, and I personally believe that in some cases it must have been known what gender they actually were, but nobody was acknowledging anything. (The modern American military cannot have thought that they were onto something new and clever with their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sexual-identity policy of the 1990s).
Tolerance for women aboard depended largely on the command. For all that St Vincent groused about women and fresh water, he didn’t ban them from his ship. But some naval men considered women at sea bad luck. Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood thought they were disruptive to order and discipline and was known to have any woman he found on his ship put ashore. He much preferred his dog, Bounce, as a shipboard companion; presumably it was more obedient!
Admiral Horatio Nelson did not particularly care to have women aboard either, although he might justifiably be accused of hypocrisy in that regard. He always made sure his lady friends were ashore if he was contemplating a naval engagement, however. It has been said that Nelson once remarked that every man became a bachelor when he passed the Gut of Gibraltar. I personally do not think he meant that statement to provide a license for licentiousness. I believe it might have been an assertion that a man should put all concerns for home and family out of his head… or at least, put King and Country first! When Lady Hamilton, the love of his life, suggested that she come to the Mediterranean with their daughter Horatia and Horatia’s nurse, and that they all live aboard HMS Victory with him, his answer was an unqualified ‘NO’.
But obviously, regardless of what the Admiralty liked to pretend that the ship was not the only ‘she’ at sea!
I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Alix Nathan, who is here to tell us more about the background behind her latest book, ‘Sea Change‘.
So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Alix:
My recent novel Sea Change, begins with a balloon journey heading for disaster.
In 1802 when the flight takes place, balloon travel was no longer rare, having begun in Paris in 1783, but people still flocked to the launches. It was because of these flights that the word balloon entered the language to replace ‘aerostat’ or ‘aerostatic globe’.
The journey in Sea Change is based on a real one that took off from Ranelagh Gardens on 28th June 1802.
An elegant afternoon breakfaft was given at Ranelagh by the directors of the Pic Nic Society of which about 2000 perfons of the firft diftinction partook. About five o’clock, Mr Garnerin, the celebrated aëronaut, accompanied by Capt. Sowden, of the navy, ascended in his balloon. Its afcent was, in the firft inftance, very gradual, in order that all poffible gratification might be afforded to the crowd of fpectators.
In my story I’ve replaced Captain Sowden with two of the principle characters, Sarah and Joseph, but André-Jacques Garnerin remains a real person, known not only for his frequent flights, but also for taking a woman up with him in 1798 in Paris which was something of a scandal, and also for inventing and demonstrating a parachute. The intrepid Garnerin took his wife, who had once been his student, on many of his flights and ultimately was made Official Aeronaut of France.
I found the account of the original flight from Ranelagh in The Annual Register of 1802, in which extensive quotation is given from Captain Sowden, who, as a naval officer used to writing up logs, provides fascinating detail of the physical experience of rising through dense cloud, seeing and hearing the world laid out beneath them and then encountering drastically difficult weather conditions. His account was a gift for me. Sowden and Garnerin’s flight came down badly but on dry land, whereas I take the balloon out to sea.
Annual Registers are a marvellous source. I have a run from 1789 to 1814, most in their very fragile eighteenth-century boards. Begun in 1758, its first editor Edmund Burke, it aimed to cover history, politics and literature. My volumes contain accounts of events in Europe and elsewhere, especially where war in concerned; parliamentary matters, state papers, lists of marriages (only those of the ‘first distinction’ of course!), promotions, deaths, tables of stock prices, imports and exports, barometer and thermometer readings, amount of tax for various things (e.g. letter money, alum mines, fines and forfeitures, four-wheel carriages, shops), diseases from which people died (e.g. convulsions, childbed, smallpox, dropsy, fever, lunatick (sic)).
A picture of each year gradually forms. One of the best sections in every volume for me has been the ‘Chronicle’ which, taking a month at a time, provides often quite short reports of events that have happened all around the country. Reports of extreme weather (frozen Thames, huge hailstones, lightning strikes), people living till 100 or more (rare then of course), odd discoveries, mysterious deaths and murders, gatherings of mobs, fires, explosions.
Most of the stories in my book His Last Fire came about because of an event or a name or a description from a report in one of the ‘Chronicles’. Thus, the pedlar who on his death was found to be a woman; the day the Turkish ambassador’s coach broke down; the woman who didn’t leave her house for twenty years and whose carriage fell to pieces; the King’s Theatre going up in flames; a list of executions for coining in which the only woman criminal was burned at the stake (1789!). My previous novel, The Warlow Experiment grew out of a short paragraph in the Annual Register ‘Chronicle’ for 1797.
Of course, Annual Registers are only one source. In Sea Change the character Sarah (the mother who becomes separated from her young daughter Eve) grew out of a brief mention of a spy’s wife running off to America with a radical, while I was reading about the London Corresponding Society. I wrote a short story about her and then Parthian Books commissioned a novel that became The Flight of Sarah Battle.
The character of Joseph in Sea Change owes a certain amount to what I read about Franz Schubert in Elizabeth Norman McKay’s excellent biography of him. She believes that he may have suffered from cyclothymia, a lesser bi-polar condition, which I found helpful in my construction of Joseph’s difficult, erratic personality.
Mental conditions and early attempts to treat them are a theme in Sea Change even though its main subject is the love and loss between a mother and daughter.
Sarah and Eve, separated after the balloon comes down each believe the other is dead. Which leads me to say that for all the reading and research I’ve done, over years now, for all the soaking in the period, helped greatly by those Annual Registers, my stories, short and long are always about fundamental human situations that are never pinned to one period alone.
I am once again, delighted to welcome back a now regular guest to All Things Georgian, the historian, Mr R M Healey. Today his article is about Patrick Colquhoun on the criminal code relating to capital offences in the UK compared with that which prevailed in Austria.
One of the best-known facts about life in Georgian England was that so many seemingly minor crimes were punishable by death. From stealing goods worth a few shillings, to forgery, with many minor infractions in between, murdering someone was not the only crime that attracted the death penalty.
The famous magistrate (for Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex) and commentator on the penal code, Patrick (later Sir Patrick) Colquhoun, devoted a good deal of his best-selling Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis to the question on whether the death penalty for seemingly trivial offences was justified.
Colquhoun’s Treatise (5th edition of 1797) is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what dangers lay in store for offenders, sometimes driven by poverty and desperation, to steal, lie and forge. But Colquhoun was a reformer, not a hanger and flogger.
He sought remedies for the prevention of crimes, and he saw the irrationality of executing someone for stealing property worth a certain amount. To show just how harsh the punishments were for comparatively minor violations he listed all those offences which carried the death penalty. Here is a selection of the most iniquitous:
Forgery of deeds, bonds, bills, notes etc., bankrupts not surrendering, or concealing their effects, house breaking in the day time, shop lifting above five shillings, stealing above 40 shillings in any house, stealing linen &c from bleaching grounds or destroying the linen therein, stealing horse, cattle or sheep, breaking down the head of a fish pond, whereby fish may be lost, maiming or killing cattle maliciously, stealing woollen cloth from tenter grounds, uttering counterfeit money ,servants purloining their masters’ goods to the value of 40 shillings, robbery of the mail, cutting down trees in an avenue, sending threatening letters, riots by twelve or more and not dispersing in an hour after proclamation, sacrilege, destroying turnpikes or bridges, gates, weighing engine locks, sluices, concealing the death of a Bastard child…
Of course, it did not follow that those convicted of some of the most trivial of these offences paid the ultimate penalty. When the Annual Register recorded the monthly county reports of those convicted of capital crimes it invariably declared that most offenders were reprieved. We can surmise that perhaps only those convicted of murder, large-scale forgery, coining, arson, highway robbery and serious housebreaking, to name but a few heinous crimes, were hanged.
Bizarrely, certain offences, though seemingly as serious, or more serious, than the crimes listed by Colquhoun, did not carry the death penalty, but were merely punishable by ‘transportation, whipping, imprisonment, the pillory and hard labour in houses of correction, according to the nature of the offence.’ These included ripping and stealing lead, iron, copper, &c, or buying or receiving, assaulting with intent to rob, stealing children with their apparel, stealing fish from a pond or river, bigamy, manslaughter and killing without malice.
However, most lawmakers agreed that the crime which most deserved the noose was forgery. The Georgian period saw a number of high profile forgery cases involving eminent men. These included Dr William Dodd, the high-living ‘macaroni parson’ who Dr Johnson failed to save from the gibbet in 1777; the celebrated ‘Engraver to the King’ and inventor of stipple, William Wynne Ryland, who tried to defraud the East India Company and was hanged in 1783; and finally, the banker Henry Fauntleroy who in 1824 became the last person to die on the gallows for the crime of forgery.
Colquhoun then compared the legal code instituted by Emperor Joseph II of Austria that related to murder, manslaughter and other violent offences, with that which prevailed in the United Kingdom.
In Austria not one offence was punishable by death, though in some cases, the alternative punishment, which might involve being chained up for thirty years, sometimes without proper food, could have seemed a far worse experience—a sort of living death. Here are some of the offences and the punishments they carried.
Imprisonment not less than 15, nor more than 30 years…When a criminal is condemned to severe imprisonment, he has no bed but the floor, no nourishment but bread and water, and all communication with relations or even strangers, is refused him. When condemned to milder imprisonment, better nourishment is allowed; but he has nothing to drink but water.
Killing a man in self-defence if the layer exceed the bounds of necessity
Imprisonment, not less than one month, nor more than five years, and condemnation to the public works
Murder—with an intention to rob or steal the property of the person, or other property intrusted to his care
Imprisonment not less than 30 years, with the hot iron; in cruel cases, to be closely chained, with corporal punishment every year. This punishment was inflicted with a ‘whip, rod or stick publickly on the criminal’; the degree of punishment ( within 100 lashes or strokes at one time) depends on the sound prudence of the Judge.
Assassination by stratagem, arms or poison.
Condemnation to the Chain, not less than 30 years…the prisoner is closely chained, that he has no more liberty than serves for the indispensable motion of his body…
Inducing another to commit murder by caresses, promises, presents or threats, whether death is the result or not
Imprisonment, not less than 5, nor more than 8 years, and condemnation to the public works—if murder is committed, the criminal shall suffer as a murderer
Duelling—or challenging another to combat with murderous weapon on whatever pretence the challenge be grounded —the person accepting the challenge is equally guilty…
Imprisonment not more than 12, not less than 8 years…If death ensues; condemnation to the Chain for 30 years, where the survivor is the challenger if the survivor be the party challenged.
A woman with child using means to procure abortion.
Imprisonment, not less than 15, nor more than 30 years; and condemnation to the public works: augmented when married women.
Not all countries were as lenient as Austria. In 1772 the Annual Register (1772, pp. 132- 133) reported that the punishment meted out to the Swiss manager of a French vineyard, who had been convicted of rape and murder, was decided under the Swiss military code. It was that the prisoner be sawn in half while still alive. This barbaric practice was not confined to Swiss law but can be found in other nations around the world.
It is interesting to note that the offence of duelling in England seems not to have carried any penalty, unless it came under ‘manslaughter’.
Throughout the Georgian period this method of satisfying an injury to honour or reputation was often practiced, sometimes by leading politicians and members of the aristocracy. Possibly the most infamous literary duel of the period, which occurred at Chalk Farm, near the present Primrose Hill in 1821, was fought over a number of hostile remarks on ‘The Cockney School’ by the critic J. G. Lockhart in Blackwood’s Magazine.
John Scott, the editor of the famous London Magazine, where Lamb’s ‘Essays of Elia’ were appearing at the time, took umbrage and retaliated with his own imprecations. Lockhart travelled to London to challenge Scott, but his friend and second, Jonathan Christie, agreed to take his place. The first shots were deliberately aimed wide, which should have ended the matter. Tragically, a second round ensued, and Scott was fatally wounded. Christie was apprehended but was later acquitted by a jury.
P (atrick) Colquhoun), A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (fifth edition, 1797). See especially pages 284 – 288; 272 – 273.
Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics and Literature…( 1758 – ) passim.
I am delighted to welcome back R.M Healey, hot on the heels of his previous piece, A Georgian ‘Trip Advisor‘. Today’s topic is however very different, so I’ll hand over to him to tell you more:
I purchased this signed drawing below of Frances Molesworth by the talented amateur Lavinia Bingham a few years ago in a provincial auction house. It is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the artist was Princess Diana’s great, great, great, grandmother.
The sketch shows Frances seated on a sofa, with a parrot perched on the top rail is dated 8 June 1780, when Lavinia was just eighteen years old and her sitter four years older.
However, the relationship between Lavinia and Frances is also significant, as the two girls were part of the same family.
Frances Molesworth, born in Wembury, near Plymouth, Devon, in 1758, the daughter of William Molesworth, and Elizabeth Smyth. Frances entered the household of her mother’s sister, Margaret Bingham (née Smyth), Lady Lucan, after the early deaths of her parents.
So, the two cousins grew up together and it is possible that among the archive of drawings by Lavinia at the Spencer seat of Althorp, there are others that depict Frances, for Lavinia was an enthusiastic sketcher, as we shall see. It would also be revealing to know how easily Lavinia accepted the introduction of Frances into the family circle. Perhaps the future discovery of such personal documents as letters and diaries, might shed some light. Unfortunately, although biographers, for obvious reasons, have focussed on Lavinia, nothing of significance has been published about Frances apart from the bare biographical facts. It is likely that the drawing, which Lavinia seemingly presented to Frances, was executed at the family home on the Thames at Laleham, though the present Laleham House dates from 1803.
Interestingly, the sitter seems to be wearing the same, or a very similar, wide brimmed hat trimmed with feathers that she was to wear in a later portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. No doubt at the time the two girls were rivals in the marriage stakes.
Both had striking good looks, but whereas less than a year after the sitting Lavinia had married George, the second Earl Spencer, brother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Frances rejected two very eligible suitors, including Lord North, before she agreed to marry John Jeffreys, Marquess of Camden, in 1785 bringing with her a generous settlement of £40,000 from Lord Lucan.
Camden’s name lives on, of course, as the developer of London’s Camden Town, which began to be built around 1791. At the time the couple were living at Bayham Abbey.
As an amateur artist Lavinia evidently inherited some of the skills of her mother, Margaret Smyth, whose miniature portraits, landscapes and book illustration were admired by Horace Walpole.
The sketch of Frances Molesworth shows that though the draughtsmanship is weak in some areas, the potential for improvement was there, and indeed by the 1790’s such productions as ‘Nice Supper’ and ‘A Pinch of Snuff’, which were both considered good enough to be engraved, demonstrated a great advancement in technique.
On 10 January, six months after the drawing of Frances was executed, Lavinia, evidently a little infatuated with her future husband, wrote to him describing her daily regime after getting up:
…I then go to breakfast—then to draw, sing and play, in order to improve those talents for your future amusement—then I write to you for your present amusement, then I take the air, or a long walk to get good looks for you—then I eat my dinner where I think of you—then I sit and fret until the post brings me a letter from you which I devour and read over for an hour and a half, then I send mine to you—then I draw again or improve my mind by good Books for you the rest of the Evening—then I go to Bed, where I dream of you—so you see that you always are the burthen of my song. Have I told you that Lady Edgcombe & Dickey came here the other day to see my drawings?
The following day Lavinia looks forward to finishing her portrait of George:
…there will not be vermillion enough in London to paint your picture if you sit again when you return—and I am out of my senses when I think how will you be when I see you next.
In a postscript she refers to her two pet dogs, Bow-Wow and Salvatori, and the tiny drawings she did of them, are added to the letter. She pleads with George to keep the letter, as the drawings on it hadn’t been copied. Perhaps, she suggests, he might hang up the letter ‘among your other Originals’.
Less than two months later, on 6 March, the pair were married. At the end of November Lavinia was ‘with child ‘and on 6 December was still drawing, though evidently suffering from morning sickness. She wrote from her new home at Althorp:
I am drawing away, but if I continue so most sick, as Mother Roberts says, I shall not be able to finish a great many things to show you, although you expect them, you unreasonable dog—for “what is the use of having her if she does not draw”.
Who could not be charmed by these letters, especially those written before her marriage? At this time Lavinia was described as a ‘sweet creature’, but her personality seems to have altered somewhat following her arriving at Althorp, where she was described by some as bitchy and arrogant.
Amanda Foreman, biographer of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, called her ‘moody, vindictive, hypocritical ‘and ‘neurotically jealous’ of both Georgiana and the Countess of Bessborough. Certainly, she appears to have ruled her household at Althorp with a self confidence born of her elevated station. Nevertheless, her beauty and intelligence proved popular with her many guests and hers was generally a happy marriage.
She bore eight children and lived just long enough to see her eldest son, Viscount Althorp, become Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lavinia died in 1831, aged sixty-nine, two years after the death of Frances.
I am once again delighted to welcome back Melanie Barnes, who is bringing her legal brain to bear on the history of child maintenance.
Throughout history, the payment of child support has been a recurring issue, though the policies applied by either the church or government have been remarkably similar.
Early records reveal that even if the father of a child was not known, the parish would still support the mother by payment of ‘Poore Reliefe’. This payment (typically very low) was raised from a tax upon the parish residents, and the church would then seek a contribution from the father or family member to mitigate the cost. In medieval England, canon law placed all parents under a duty to support their legitimate children, but later, the duty to provide for ‘bastard’ children was introduced through various ‘Old Poor Laws’ which aimed to provide better relief to the mother of the child or those in need.
Throughout the 16th and 17th century, legislation was introduced to meet the costs of illegitimate children on the parish. For example, in 1576, the Acte for Setting of the Poore on Work, and for the Avoiding of Ydleness punished both parents for having a bastard child and allowed the mother’s name and fact of pregnancy to be publicly announced, thus making her known to her neighbours who would be taxed for the support of her child. The mere fact of publicity encouraged neighbours to pressure the mother into marriage or to filiate their children on men who could maintain them – an act that was a lot easier before DNA samples could determine paternity.
After 1609, a mother could be sent to a ‘House of Correction’ for a year unless she gave security for her bastard child. So unpopular were women who became dependent on the parish that child infanticide became common so that mothers could avoid the shame and punishment of giving birth to an illegitimate child. In response to this widespread issue, the 1624 Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murthering of Bastard Children was introduced to provide that a woman would face the punishment of death if she gave birth and thereafter concealed the dead body; introducing a presumption that any child buried or concealed after birth had been illegally killed.
Later Poor Acts rather harshly made provision for what became known as ‘badging up’ where a person would have to wear a badge with the first letter of their parish followed by a ‘P’ showing that they were poor. Any ‘able-bodied’ pauper who refused to work was liable to be placed in prison, thus distinguishing between those who were unable to work, and those who were simply seen as idle, a distinction that appears to be accepted in modern politics where policy has once again reverted to the belief system that the unemployed are somehow irresponsible.
Legislation was also introduced to try and discourage the birth of illegitimate children. In the Bastard Child Act of 1732, the law provided that any person charged with being the father of a bastard child should be imprisoned until he gave security to indemnify the parish from expense. It also became the responsibility of the woman to name the father in order to deter both parties.
The indemnities that a father had to provide by law were known as ‘bastardy bonds’ and were registered in parish records. Typically, the father was required to agree to pay the parish a lump sum if he failed to maintain the costs of bringing up a bastard child. The following is an indemnification from parish records in the year of 1747:
“I Abraham Atkinson of Cambridge, Cambridge apothecary am held and firmly bound unto the Churchwardens of the parish of Littlebury in Essex and the Overseers of the Poor of the said parish in the sum of 50 pounds of good and lawful money. If this man and his heirs promise to support the child and all manner of costs, charges and expenses which shall or may in any wise hereafter means of the birth maintenance or bringing up of the said Bastard Child – then his obligation to be void”
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the birth of an illegitimate child was not common. However, as the church lost their moral hold over marital affairs, prenuptial sex became more accepted to the point where approximately half of all conceptions in the 18th century were out of wedlock. Following pregnancy, it is estimated that around one in five actual births were recorded as illegitimate, which suggests that many prenuptial pregnancies were followed by a rather hasty marriage which under church law would legitimise the children – though not for the purposes of inheritance under Common Law.
Review of the Poor Laws
In the 1833 Poor Law Commission Report on Bastardy reported that the Poor Laws encouraged illegitimacy because parish relief was so readily accessible for bastards and their mothers. It was thought that more relief was issued to maintain illegitimate children than to support legitimate children, and costs were rising because mothers were able to avoid responsibility by moving to their home parish. This problem arose as at that time if a child was born legitimately then he would ‘inherit’ the parish of his parents. If he was not legitimate, then a mother could move home to her own parish and leave responsibility of the child to the parish into which he was born. In other words, the child would be considered a ‘no-one’ with no home and the parish into which he was born would have to maintain him. Children and those who were vulnerable were generally cared for in what was known as an ‘alms house’ which still exist today and were similar to sheltered housing though no doubt very bleak.
The recommendations of the Poor Law Commission formed the basis of the Bastardy Clause in the New Poor Law of 1834 which provided that all illegitimate children were to be the sole responsibility of their mothers until they were 16 years old. Shifting blame to the mother appears to be a direct result of the findings of the 1833 Poor Law Report which was led by Nassau Senior, an economist who was against the allowance system.
Instead of relief being readily available, it was recommended that those in need would first have to enter workhouses that were introduced nationally. Through the Act, mothers of bastard children were expected to support themselves and their offspring and would have to enter the workhouse if they were unable to do so which ultimately was proposed in order to reduce the costs of children on the parish. There would no longer be any penal sanctions against either the mother or the father for non-support of their illegitimate children and for the first time, the putative father was absolved of any responsibility for his illegitimate children.
It was hoped that the morality of women would be effected by such draconian laws, but the reality was that it led to many more men avoiding responsibility altogether and placed even greater financial pressure on a mother who already had the burden of an illegitimate child. It is also thought that this Act may have led to the flourish of baby-farming in the Victorian age where discrete adverts were placed in journals or newspapers for ‘care’ of children which amounted to a sort of black-market trade in children.
The injustice caused by the Bastardy Clause, led to the 1844 Poor Law Amendment Act which provided that bastardy proceedings were to be a civil matter between parents. Under this act, a mother could apply under oath for an ‘affiliation order’ which required the putative father to pay a weekly sum to the parish, although she still received maintenance from the church if this was not received. It is thought that this law has probably come to reflect what has always been a de facto division of parental labour: mother as parent with care, and father as financial provider.
This of course, relates mostly to those children who are maintained by unmarried parents, although families who were poor would also receive relief from the parish. Marriage was a clear advantage when it came to finance as a spouse had full property rights and legitimate children and widow could inherit or receive a pension through the rules of legislation, common and ecclesiastical law. Given the importance of marriage, it was therefore crucial that any ceremony or union was seen as valid and legal.
Lawrence Stone “Uncertain Unions”
Marriage, Fertility, and Population Growth in Eighteenth-Century England (Marriage and Society 156-7, 162; E. A. Wrigley)
Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983),
Bastardy and baby-farming in Victorian England, Haller, DL
The Child Support Agency and the Old Poor Law (2006), Nutt, T
Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983)
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 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-gun 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 5 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, and 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 pat