In the 18th and 19th centuries people were fascinated with people who were different in some way to the ‘average person’ and people such as the Sussex Giantess were bought by often unscrupulous people, to be on show for the paying public. So let’s find out a little more about Jane Cobden and her family.
William Cobden and Millicent Amber were married in 1798 and together they had eleven children, five boys and six girls, including their famous second son, Richard Cobden, who was noted in history as being a politician.
Their children were – Frederick (1799); Emma (1800-1836); Millicent (1802); Richard (1804-1865); Jane (1806); Charles (1808); Priscilla (1809); Miles (1812); Henry Andrews(1813-1858); Mary (1815); and their youngest, Sarah (1817).
Richard was probably best known for his association with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-corn law league, and the Cobden Chevalier Treaty, which promoted closer interdependence between Britain and France. He was so well respected that he even has a memorial bust in the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey.
To give you a little background into the family, they were a long-standing Sussex family who could trace their ancestors back to the fourteenth century. They lived in the hamlet of Heyshott, near Chichester, Sussex in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford.
They were not a wealthy family and Richard’s father was described by Richard’s biographer, John Morley as
a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not the force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him.
Millicent, however, appears to have been the stronger character, described as being
endowed with native sense, shrewdness and force of mind.
She would have to have been a strong character, given the number of children she had to raise. It must have been difficult trying to raise such a large family with limited income, always trying to find ways to make ends meet. In 1809, the family had to be sold and the family moved to a smaller farm, Gilder’s Oak.
By 1813, the family hit hard time and had to move again, finally settling in West Meon, Hampshire.
By this time their third daughter, Jane was only seven years old, but was there anything unusual about Jane at that time? We will never know. The first sighting of a Jane Cobden was not until 1824, when her name appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle where she was described appearing as part of a travelling show of ‘curiosities’ at Mr Hubbard’s’ Great Room, Kings Head, upper side of the market. Sadly, the advert carries no further information as to quite where Mr Hubbard’s Great Room was, given that the notice appeared in a local newspaper, possibly Norfolk.
Jane was described as being
Only 18 years of age, stands near seven feet high. This young lady is allowed by all ranks of people, to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever exhibitedto be British public.
She was appearing alongside Mr Thomson, the Scottish Giant, who stood at over seven feet tall and Mr Robertson who stood a mere twenty-six inches tall. Admittance being one shilling for ladies and gentlemen and just six pence for servants.
In July 1825, Jane’s mother, Millicent Cobden died at the age of 50, did Jane know as she was busy travelling around the country?
It was the festival at York in December 1825, that provided just one more clue as to her identity when it specified that she was a native of Chichester and that:
This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.
The final sighting of Jane was in the Evening Mail, 9 June 1826, when she appeared at Ascot Races, accompanied by a ‘dwarf from the Low Countries’, a ‘Bohemian who balanced coach wheels on his chin’, a black sleight of hand player, several dogs and a lady who ‘took money’, all dwelling in a covered cart not twelve feet square, and all to be seen for just one penny.
Jane simply vanished after this, but it is reputed that she died in Hertfordshire in 1830, making her just 24 years of age. Whilst I cannot be absolutely certain that this young lady was the sister of Richard, she was the only Jane Cobden, born in Sussex whose year of birth matches or even comes close and there seems nothing to suggest that it wasn’t her – perhaps someone out there might be able to confirm one way or the other.
I have now found a burial for Jane and the ages ties in nicely with it being Richard’s sister. She was buried at Chipping Barnet 31st May 1830, aged 24 years.
The life of Richard Cobden by Morley, John, 1838-1923
We are thrilled as always, to welcome back Regan Walker, whose latest book in the Agents of the Crown series, ‘Rogue’s Holiday‘ has just been released and for which there are further details of how to obtain a copy at the end of her article. Today Regan is going to tell us more about Prinny’s Brighton, so, over to Regan:
When George, the Prince of Wales, reigned as the Prince Regent, beginning in 1811, and even after he became king in 1820, Brighton on the south coast of England was his favourite destination. It was fifty-four miles from London as the road winds, close enough to travel to in one day. The seaside resort provided all the pleasures of the Beau Monde without the discomforts of town. William Wilberforce, after a visit in 1815, dubbed the town “Piccadilly by the sea-side.”
Brighton loved the Prince Regent. Whatever criticisms he may have faced for his lifestyle, the Brighton newspapers celebrated his frequent visits and looked forward to welcoming all those who flocked the seaside town to enjoy what became “the Brighton Season”.
In 1822, the Brighton Gazette reported:
Gay and fashionable equipages are daily pouring into the town, and every thing gives promise of a brilliant and prosperous winter season. Many large houses on the Cliffs, Marine Parade, etc. have been engaged for Noblemen within the last fortnight… Who indeed would not fly the dirt and smoke of the crowded metropolis for a place like Brighton, where he may at once enjoy the pure and healthful breezes of the ocean, and a salubrious climate, without being subject to the dreary ennui of a country life?
For the Prince, Brighton became a fantasy escape from his narrow-minded and staid parents who failed to appreciate their son and heir. More than anyone, they were responsible for making Prinny the Grand Corinthian. Thus, it should have come as no surprise that the Prince would build a palace that would be a mogul’s dream where he could entertain his eclectic bevy of friends in grand fashion, including of course, the characters in my story.
The Marine Parade that ran along the shore and the Old Steyne that fronted the Pavilion were wide paths available for a morning or afternoon stroll. But one could certainly keep busy in Brighton. Visitors were offered an endless array of balls, concerts, soirees, private dinners, theatrical events, interspersed with riding, card games and other entertainments.
The Pavilion’s designer was architect John Nash who built it in three stages until it became the palace we think of today with its many domes and minarets. There, Prinny reigned as the beneficent patron of the foremost artists and literary men of his age and entertained his diverse friends in the rooms decorated in chinoiserie style to look like the home of a Chinese emperor who lived in a kingdom of flowers and perpetual spring. Rooms, such as the Music Room, pictured above, which Prinny kept overheated with candles and gas lamps.
As the town grew, entertainments were added to rival those of London. Hotels, shops, theatres and a racecourse stood at ready. Castle Square next to the Pavilion and half of North Street were the Bond Street of Brighton where one could buy cloth, shoes, cigars, porcelain and many other things. North Street was home to sixty shops by 1820, the year of my story. By 1808, Brighton also had a department store, Hanningtons, on North Street. Added to that, there were dozens of taverns and hotels, that featured balls and card games. All of the taverns, shops, shopkeepers and hotels mentioned in Rogue’s Holiday existed at the time.
The Castle Inn adjacent to the Pavilion had an assembly room and a smaller room used as a tearoom. The Old Ship Inn, the oldest hotel in Brighton, also had a tearoom. And there was yet another tearoom erected in 1805 in the gardens of a public house a mile away in Preston.
Among Brighton’s many attractions was sea bathing, where one could be towed to the water in small boxes on wheels to swim, as my heroine does, in the altogether or, if you prefer, in one of the gowns provided. The men’s and women’s bathing areas were separated, of course. Dippers (for women) and bathers (for men) were employed to make sure the person’s head was dipped into the water. Dipping took place year round since the cold water was considered to be good for the health.
A wholesale fish market was held on the beach, supplied by 100 ships that sailed in the afternoon or evening and returned in the morning. Mackerel were in season from May to the end of July. Also, Sole, Brill, Turbot (common at all seasons) and Dories were in plentiful supply. As you will see in Rogue’s Holiday, while the fish market proceeded on shore, the boats hoisted their nets to dry.
Among Brighton’s most famous residents was Prinny’s Catholic wife, Maria Fitzherbert, a virtuous woman who took her marriage to Prince George seriously even if he did not. All of Brighton respected her. The king must have had her on his mind when he died in 1830, for he was buried wearing a locket containing her miniature.
A curious feature in the category of equipages was the fly carriage, a small covered carriage you might see around Brighton drawn by a man and an assistant. They were very convenient for navigating the narrow streets and had room for two. The ones that Prinny and his noble friends used for midnight excursions were dubbed “fly-by-nights”.
Prinny’s yacht, the HMY the Royal George, was commissioned in 1817 and could often be seen anchored off shore of Brighton when he was in residence. In my story, set in 1820, the king invites my characters to dine onboard. Among Prinny’s friends invited that evening were Lord Alvanley, Sir Bellingham and his wife Harriot, Sir John Lade and his wife Letty, and Elizabeth Conyngham, Marchioness Conyngham, the king’s mistress.
I have described the Royal George, in detail as my research provided. The great cabin really did have windows of plate glass, a skylight, gilded dark wood panelling, a Brussels carpet beneath a mahogany table and a pianoforte, among other accoutrements. As my hero, Sir Robert, said, the king liked to travel in style.
Even a spy needs a holiday…
Robert Powell’s work as a spy saves the Cabinet ministers from a gruesome death and wins him accolades from George IV. As a reward, the king grants him a baronetcy and a much-deserved holiday at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton where he thinks to indulge in brandy, cards, good horseflesh and women.
But when Muriel, Dowager Countess of Claremont, learns of Sir Robert’s intended destination, she begs a favour…to watch over an “errant child” who is the grandniece of her good friend living in the resort town. Little does Robbie know that Miss Chastity Reynolds is no child but a beautiful hoyden who is seemingly immune to his charms.
Chastity lives in the shadow of her mother and sisters, dark-haired beauties men admire. Her first Season was a failure but, as she will soon come into a family legacy, she has no need to wed. When she first encounters Sir Robert, she dubs him The Rogue, certain he indulges in a profligate lifestyle she wants no part in.
In Brighton, Robbie discovers he is being followed by friends of the conspirators who had planned to murder the Cabinet. Worse, they know the location of Chastity’s residence.
Below are all the ways you can find out about and purchase Regan’s books, so feel free to click on the highlighted links.
Bread, a staple of part of the diet today as much as it was in the Georgian era. Hardly something controversial or so you would think.
In 1757 the weight of a penny loaf was set to reflect the local cost of wheat. Parliament tried to get people to eat lower quality bread by creating the ‘Household Bread’ Act, which stated that half of all bread sold must contain a high proportion of coarse grain – this proved extremely unpopular. Bakers, on the other hand, began to adulterate the basic bread mixture with the addition of less wholesome ingredients such as alum, which they used to make bread appear whiter.
In order to prevent such bad practice it was decided that bakers convicted of adulterating their bread, or of having in their possession any mixture or ingredients with an intention to adulterate the purity of meal, flour or bread, should forfeit a sum not exceeding ten shilling, nor less than two shillings and by the same statute, that the magistrate before whom any such conviction should be made, could cause the offender’s name and place of abode to be published in or near the county, city or place where the offence was committed.
Last Wednesday Thomas Smithers, baker near the butcher row in East Smithfield, was convicted before John Fielding Esq; in the penalty of five shillings for having in his possession a quantity of undissolved alum and a quantity of dissolved alum, with an intention to mix and adulterate the purity of the product. The penalty of 5 shilling was repaid to Mr Fielding, for the use of Magdalen House.
There was an interesting article on this subject, in the Hampshire Chronicle dated 27th July 1795 regarding the Prince of Wales who, as we know, was a lover of food; was he trying to improve his diet or simply trying to cut down on the spending?
The Prince of Wales has ordered brown bread to be introduced at his own table at Brighton and forbidden the use of any other amongst his household. At Brighton camp, the officers have been given orders that they had resolved on the use of brown bread only, at their tables, under forfeiture of one month’s pay from each who shall break this resolution. The allowance of bread to each man at the above camp has been reduced from a pound and a half to one pound per day. The deficiency of bread has been made up for with meat and vegetables.
Bread was a continual source of angst for the government of the day. Towards the end of the century, there were successive bad wheat harvests resulting in the price of wheat doubling and with it pushing up the price of bread. This ultimately caused food riots up and down the country. The country turned against King George III attacking his carriage when he went to open Parliament, so again it was debated to work out what grain could be used as an alternative product.
The debate in the House of Commons went something like this:
The speaker of the House of Commons, Henry Addington, proposed that where families made use of vegetables in their diet the consumption of bread should be restrained to a quartern loaf (i.e. one weighing four pounds) a head per week. The harvest was looking better for this year so it was anticipated that the scarcity of bread would diminish.
However, he felt that bread made from full grain, bran as well as flour would be more nutritious. His wish was to remove the prejudice against brown bread. There was, of course, an objection to this proposal, that being that mixed bread was likely to be subject to adulteration than white bread. His opinion was that this notion was incorrect and that was easier to detect ingredients in brown rather than in white.
Lord Hawkesbury agreed to a certain extent but felt that such advantage might be over-rated, because swine and other creatures, whose flesh constituted part of human food, were fed by the very part of the meal, which was separated from the white flour, and thus possibly, the very article of bread itself might become scarcer if the practice of making white bread was totally discontinued; for a certain class of persons would be compelled to consume more bread than they do now if they had less animal food. In a word, he thought there was sufficient to make it a matter of recommendation, but not of compulsion, to make bread of the whole meal.
After much debate, the Speaker strongly recommended Lord Sheffield was fully persuaded of the necessity of making a compulsory law to enforce the use of only one kind of bread. Mr Wilberforce agreed and gave notice that he would bring in a Bill. The report was agreed to and ordered to be printed.
So, in 1800, the ‘Making of Bread’ Act, also known as the ‘Brown Bread Act’ or the ‘Poison Act’ came into effect which prohibited millers from producing flour other than wholemeal. For many people, bread formed almost half of their diet and this Act proved so unpopular and difficult to enforce that on November 6th, 1801 it was repealed.
Still Life with Bread and Wine, Henri Horace Roland de la Porte (c.1724–1793), York Museums Trust
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to pay a visit to Uppark House, near Petersfield, Sussex and thought I would share a little information from my trip.
In 1747 Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh and his wife Sarah Lethieullier purchased Uppark House and estate in Sussex.
For around ten years the couple redecorated the house and spent much of their time travelling in France, Italy and Austria on lavish shopping trips, purchasing a wide variety of antiquities for their new house.
The couple only had one child, Henry, known as Harry, who was ‘safely delivered’ at Uppark on 22nd December 1754 according to the newspaper report in the Newcastle Courant just less than one week later. He was baptized at the local church in Harting, Sussex a few weeks later, on January 14th, 1755.
Matthew was to die before Harry reached his majority but fortuitously wrote his will just before he died in March 1774, appointing his widow Sarah and her brother Benjamin Lethieullier as guardians to their only son Harry.
Like his father, the educated and extremely wealthy Harry also undertook the Grand Tour and added to the antiquities that his parents had purchased.
He also commissioned the renowned Humphry Repton to add a new pillared portico, a dairy and to landscape the garden, creating some spectacular views from the house.
Harry was a good friend of the Prince of Wales who stayed at Uppark during the mid-1780s. In 1780, Harry had a short-lived affair with Emma Hart, later to become Lady Emma Hamilton, he even provided her with a cottage on the estate.
After this he became something of a confirmed bachelor and recluse until that is, at the ripe old age of 71 he happened to hear the head of the milking parlour, Mary Ann Bullock singing and fell in love with her immediately.
Mary Ann was a mere 21 years of age. A marriage licence was issued 9th September 1825 and the couple married a few days later, despite such a massive age gap. Harry also arranged for Mary Ann to be educated in Paris. Upon his death in 1846, he left the entire estate to her.
Mary Ann’s family moved to the village from Streatham, Surrey, where Mary Ann was born on 16th December 1804 (her parents were William and Ann Bullock). The couple had several children baptized in Surrey, prior to moving to Harting, Sussex at which point they produced several more children including Frances (1817) who lived at Uppark with her sister and was sole executrix of her sisters will in 1874. Despite being a scandalous marriage in its day, the union lasted some 21 years, so perhaps the age gap didn’t matter after all.
We’re not quite sure that Martha’s claim to fame would work in today’s celebrity culture, for Martha, who was born Martha Killick daughter of Friend and Anne Killick in 1726 (baptized 19 September 1731), was a ‘dipper‘. Much has been written about her already, but we thought we would add a few extra bits.
What was a ‘dipper’? Well, in the 1700 and early 1800s doctors would recommend that people bath in seawater to restore their health. Needless to say, this concept was terrifying for many, so in places such as Brighton people were employed as ‘dippers‘.
Huts on wheels, like the one below were used to allow the bather to protect their modesty, the bather would climb into the hut, change into their swimming attire, the machine was then pulled by dippers into the sea. Dippers were also expected to ensure that people were not swept away by the current, arguably like a modern day lifeguard, so they would need to be very strong.
This occupation in itself was never going to give Martha celebrity status, but her royal connection to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, did. She was a favourite of his and apparently enjoyed special privileges including free access to the kitchen at the Royal Pavilion.
The portrait of her below is reputed to show Martha holding the Prince of Wales as a small child, however, this is not feasible as the Prince did not visit Brighton until September 7th, 1783, he was 21. So despite the annotation at the top of the painting this must have been added at a later stage.
Todd’s print catalogue of 1799 simply described the painting as being with an unnamed child.
There was also another copy of the piece produced by William Nutter which is now held by The Met, dated 1797. It does not state that the child was the Prince of Wales, but that the original was in his possession and this one was dedicated to the Prince of Wales.
It also appeared in the following catalogue which confirmed the artist to be John Russell – ‘A catalogue of all the capital and valuable finished and unfinished original works of the distinguished artist, John Russell, Esq. R.A where it was to be sold along with other paintings by Mr Christie on February 14th, 1807.
Martha was a large and strong woman and was well respected by the town and she even featured in the caricature below.
She died in May 1815 and was buried in the local churchyard.
On Monday last, died, in the 89th year of her age, at Brighton, that well-known and esteemed character, as a bather, Martha Gunn, of that town. Her remains were followed to the grave by a large train of mourners and others.
Hampshire Chronicle, 15 May 1815
Long after her death, a plaque was added to the house where she and her family lived.
Following one from one of our earlier posts about the colour green, we find ourselves once again on the same topic. This time, however, it is about an English eccentric: Henry Cope aka The Green Man. It is reported that Henry loved anything and everything green. This extract about Henry comes from The Omnium Gatherum, 1809.
The Green Man at Brighton – Amongst the visitors this season is an original, or would-be original, generally known by the appellation of ‘The Green Man’. He is dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat and though his ears, whiskers, eye-brows and chin are better powdered than his head, which is, however, covered with flour, his countenance, no doubt, from the reflection of his clothes, is also green. He eats nothing but greens, fruits and vegetables; has his apartments painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery his portmanteau, his gloves and his whips, are all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat he parades every day on the Steyne, Brighton.
He became so famous that a verse was written about him, also contained in the above book.
A spruce little man, in a doublet of green,
Perambulates daily the streets and the Steyne;
Green stripe is his waistcoat, his small-clothes are green,
And oft round his neck, a green ‘kerchief is seen;
Green watch-strings, green seals, and for certain I’ve heard,
(Tho’ they’re powder’d) green whiskers, and eke a green beard!
Green garters, green hose, and, deny it who can,
The brains too are green, of the little Green Man!
Virtually nothing seems to be known of his early life, but many tall tales were told about him. Henry was reputed to have been a descendant of Sir John Cope, owner of Bramshill House, Hampshire (later Bramshill Police College) and Henry’s ghost is one of many said to haunt the house. The Morning Advertiser (10 October 1806) however, claimed that The Green Man was a student of Lincoln’s Inn, his mental faculties deranged by intense study, and a near relative of the Duchess of Dorset, Arabella Diana née Cope, daughter of Sir Charles Cope, 2nd Baronet. Others said that he had lost his wits over his love for a beautiful woman. Perhaps she was the Crazy Jane mentioned in this snippet?
Morning Post, 13 October 1806
An interesting young female, in whimsical attire, resembling the costume of the time of Queen ELIZABETH, appeared on Friday evening on the Steyne, at Brighton, in quest, as she said, ‘of the “Knight of the Green Man, who had stolen the wits of Crazy Jane.” She, however, precipitately retired to her residence, before the crowd around her could increase.
A portrait on the Sotheby’s website supposedly shows Henry Cope, The Green Man, as a young man c.1765-1770, identifying him as one of the family of Cope of Bramshill House and holding a ring. The catalogue notes suggest that possibly the portrait was commissioned to mark the sitter’s marriage, but no record of a marriage exists. What happened to Henry Cope’s bride-to-be? Perhaps this might also be a clue to his mental affliction? The artist was Francis Cotes who died in 1775.
His fame soon spread, and the London newspapers continued to run stories, laughing at his expense.
Morning Advertiser, 16 October 1806
The servant of the Green Man at Brighton arrived yesterday in town, at the Green Man and Still in Oxford-street, for the purpose of contracting with an eminent Poulterer to supply him constantly with green geese at any price at which they can be obtained. The Physicians have pronounced that the unfortunate man is afflicted with the green sickness.
(A green goose is one which is killed when under four months old, and eaten without any stuffing, and hypochromic anaemia was, historically, referred to as ‘the green sickness’.)
Henry Cope’s death is often said to have taken place in 1806 as a result of either committing suicide or accidentally falling off a cliff in Brighton. The newspapers of the day suggest that such an event occurred, but he did not die as a result of it.
Staffordshire Advertiser, 01 November 1806
Last Saturday morning, a little after six o’clock, the gentleman and other eccentricities (exhibited on the Steine, at Brighton, for several weeks past) had obtained the appellation of The Green Man, leaped from the window of his lodgings on the South Parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the Cliff nearly opposite, and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below. Several persons immediately ran to his assistance, and carried him, bleeding at the mouth and ears back to his lodging. The height of the Cliff from whence he precipitated himself is about 20 feet perpendicular; but whether his fall has proved dangerous we have not yet heard. From the general demeanour of the above gentleman it is supposed he is deranged. His name, we understand is Henry Cope, and that he is related to some highly-distinguished family.
Morning Post, 24 October 1806
The Green Man of Brighton has received no serious injury from his late accident, though it has effected some change in his colour – for he has ever since looked rather blue.
Several newspapers related that The Green Man had fancied that there was a serious riot in progress and that his presence was needed to quell the disturbance. The person in whose house he was living travelled to London, to contact Cope’s friends and ensure his future safety (Morning Post, 22 October 1806). It would seem, therefore, that the unfortunate Henry Cope lived primarily in London, and his friends did indeed take measures to prevent him from harming himself again for he found himself in St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London.
Almost a year later, according to the Morning Advertiser of 5th September 1807, he was still alive but presumably in dire straits.
This day an auction at Fisher’s Rooms, St James’s Street, excited much attention. It consisted of the wearing apparel, gold watch, chain and seals, and other effects belonging to the well-known character, Mr. Henry Cope, commonly called The Green Man, taken in execution for board, lodgings etc. Most of the articles of dress were sold far below their original value and real worth. They were purchased by some of the most respected people, more for curiosities than for use. A full green suit, not much the worse for wear, and consisting of coat, pantaloons, and waistcoat were knocked down at 1l 6s; another green coat and pantaloons, of somewhat a darker hue, went off at 6s 6d; and a green great coat, of exactly the same tinge, at 1l, 12s. The chapeau de bras, which had been so often and anxiously gazed at by all the fashionable fair upon the Steyne, and public promenades during last season, was disposed of at the moderate rate of one guinea; and for the same amount also went off the miniature set in gold of the beautiful Dulcinea, for whom it is said this unfortunate gentleman has gone mad. It is reported that he is at present in that unhappy state in St. Luke’s hospital, London. The most valuable article, however, disposed of upon this occasion, was a gold repeater, with its chain and seal, which originally cost Mr. Cope 188 guineas. Upon the seal was beautifully engraven the arms and supporters of Earl Vernor, the title this insane Gentleman thought to assume. In the inside of the watch were also engraven ‘the Right Hon. H. Cope, Earl Vernor’ but not withstanding these claims to rank and high estimation, it was sold at the reduced price of 39l 7s 6d. Such are the bargains to be got at Brighton. If sold in London these articles would, no doubt, from the eccentricity of the character to whom they once belonged have brought double the sum.
We have searched as many places as we can think of to locate his death and burial, but all in vain. If anyone out there has any luck please do let us know.
Today’s post has been written with our genealogy followers very much in mind and those who love nothing more than a good challenge.
So, according to the government, health experts and others we’re going to live longer than ever before. Well, if you believe these accounts of longevity below we’ve got quite a way to go to exceed some of these instances.
All of these accounts appeared in the newspapers and also in a collated account of longevity written by James Easton ‘Human Longevity: Recording the Name, Age, Place of Residence, and Year’ in 1799.
Certainly Easton had done his homework by trawling through the newspapers, etc. We have tried in vain, so far, to validate any of them with a corresponding date of birth, yet if true, then they are accounts of longevity that far exceed anything you would expect for that period and many would still make headline news today even by our standards of life expectancy. Easton also noted that:
the more a man follows nature and is obedient to her laws, the longer he will live; and that the further he deviates from these, the shorter will be his existence. It is not the rich and great, nor those who depend on medicines who become old, but such as use much exercise, are exposed to the fresh air, and whose food is plain and moderate, as farmers, gardeners, fishermen, labourers, soldiers and such men, as perhaps never employed their thoughts on the means which have been used to promote longevity.
John Burnet aged 109, of Broadwater, Sussex. He married six wives, three of them after he was one hundred years old; and died in the same house in which he was born.
Margaret Patten died aged 137 (no, it’s not a typo!). She was of St Margaret’s workhouse, London, a Scotch woman. She always enjoyed good health till within a few days of her dissolution; and for many years subsisted mostly on milk. (Born near Paisley, according to the newspapers.)
John Hussey aged 116. Of Sydenham, Kent and formerly a farmer at Crawford. His breakfast was balm-tea sweetened with honey; and pudding for dinner, above fifty years; by which he acquired long and regular health.
Mary How aged 112. Of Mapleton, Derbyshire, widow. Her death was occasioned by pulling a codling off a tree, the limb of which breaking, fell on her arm and broke it. About two years before, she cut several new teeth and her hair changed its colour from grey to a beautiful white.
Rev. Mr Braithwaite – aged 110, of Carlisle. He had been one hundred years in the cathedral, having commenced singing-boy in the year 1652. N.B. There was a Rev. George Braithwaite listed in the Archaeology Data service who became a minor canon in 1679, ‘but that this fact does not necessarily imply that he was by that time in holy orders. A chapter order made November 23rd, 1703, distinguished between “lay petty canons who are skilled in music” and “petty canons who are in holy orders and are not skilled in music”‘.
Whether it was the same Reverend Braithwaite we have no idea.
Of Ripon, Yorkshire Robert Oglebie (Ogleby) aged 115, a travelling tinker; born Nov 6, 1647, as appears by the register of Ripon, married seventy-three years, and had twelve sons and thirteen daughters; had all his senses perfect and could see to work a short time before his death. His wife lived to be one hundred and six years old. He also claimed his father lived to the ripe old age of 140 and there was apparently a monument erected for him at Tanfield church, although we can find no evidence of this!
William Cotterell, aged 107, of Nottingham, farmer. His wife died three days after, aged ninety-eight, having been married eighty years.
Mary Wilkinson who died aged 109 in 1788. She was a native of Lundale, and changed her residence to Romald Kirk, in the north of Yorkshire. When she was young, she walked several times to London in four days, a distance of 290 miles. At the age of 99 years, she was desirous of seeing London again, and buckling a keg of gin, and a quantity of provisions on her back, she left Romald Kirk, and reached London in five days and three hours. –[S]he lived to see four Kings reign, and is interred in a stately tomb, erected at the expense of the inhabitants of Romald Kirk.
Anne Froste of West Rasen, Lincolnshire. She was the wife of a labourer, had been married three times and left a daughter ninety years of age. She was married to her last husband in her ninety-third year. For many years past she had lived on milk and tea diet. She died aged 111.
John Roberts died aged 103, of Digbeth near Birmingham. He married three wives, by whom he had twenty-eight children; was nearly eighty when he married his last and by whom he had six of the children.
William Troy, died aged 120 near Waterford, farmer. A short time before his death he read very small print without spectacles and daily walked about his farm without support.
John Sayer, aged 100 of Caistor near Norwich, butcher. He retained the perfect use of his faculties to the last hour of his life, with a memory very unusual at his age.
John Sayer’s burial record, at St Edmunds in Caistor, gave his age as 105.
And one we found in the London Evening Post, 13th October 1737.
We hear the following remarkable instance of longevity from Lewes in Sussex. Last Saturday died there Mr. Henry Morgan, aged 105 years and a half. He never made use of spectacles, but work’d at his trade as a sieve-maker the day before his death. He never had a day’s, nor scarce an hour’s illness in his whole life. The morning he died he walk’d into his garden and when he return’d sat down in his chair and died immediately, not so much as any of the family perceiving any difference in him.
And finally a little gem from 1771, which implies that not washing your face for over thirty years could be the key to a very long life, although we don’t recommend it!
Yesterday se’ennight were interred in the church-yard of Logie, the remains of Jean Stevenson, who died on Sunday preceeding, at Montrose, in the 107th year of her age. Her neighbours say, that she had not washed her face for thirty or forty years before her death.
Caledonian Mercury, 13 February 1771
Human Longevity: Recording the Name, Age, Place of Residence, and Year, of the Decease of 1712 Persons, who Attained a Century, & Upwards, from A.D. 66 to 1799, by James Easton
Today we take a more detailed look at one of the people mentioned in our recent biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, An Infamous Mistress.
Our subject today is Catherina Pitcairn who was first cousin to Grace; Elizabeth Dalrymple had married John Pitcairn, a man who rose through the ranks of the marine regiments. Grace’s elder sister, Jacintha, was especially close to her Pitcairn relatives and spent some time living with her aunt, uncle and cousins at their home in Kent, close to the military base there. When Jacintha married, in 1771, to Thomas Hesketh, a Lieutenant in the 7th Foot Regiment, Catherina was a witness at the marriage. Shortly afterwards Catherina herself married, to a fellow officer from the 7th Foot, Charles Cochrane who was the second son of the Earl of Dundonald.
Thomas Hesketh and Charles Cochrane were commanded, with their regiment, first to Canada and then to America where they saw action in the War of Independence. John Pitcairn too was there and his son, William, both with the British Marine force. Jacintha, with two young children in tow, followed her husband overseas and remained close by his side through his adventures in America. Catherina initially remained in England with her two infant children.
The Cochrane’s had a son (Thomas, son of the Honourable Charles Cochrane Esq and Catherine his wife was baptised on the 1st August 1773, at St Margaret’s in Rochester Kent) and a daughter.
In Boston, Charles Cochrane was promoted to a Captaincy in the 4th Regiment of Foot, ‘The King’s Own’, the youngest captain in that regiment, and was employed in helping in father-in-law, Major Pitcairn. Despairing of promotion within the 4th Foot, Cochrane transferred to the 1st Foot Guards and then a commission to Brevet Major within the British Legion, the ‘Green Dragoons’. Another officer who served with the British Legion was ‘Bloody Ban’, otherwise Banastre Tarleton, remembered to history not only for his military endeavours but also as the lover of the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson who was a rival to our heroine Grace Dalrymple Elliott for the affections of the young Prince of Wales in the early 1780s. Ban was Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment, composed of small loyalist units of American infantry and cavalry.
In June 1780 Cochrane asked for leave to go home and see his wife and the two young children he had left behind; additionally, his father had died and his father-in-law, Major Pitcairn had lost his life at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill (otherwise Breed’s Hill). He had been away for almost seven years. His request was granted and he was given important military despatches to take back to England with him and a letter to Lord Amherst from General James Robertson, who said of him that:
Major Cochran who carrys this is an Officer who has gallantly distinguished himself – and can inform You of what is passing here, and perfectly well of the state of Carolina and Georgia.[i]
Lord Cornwallis, in charge of the British force, was sorry to see such a talented young officer leave, writing the following heartfelt letter to the ‘Honble Major Cochrane’.
Campden, June 10th, 1780
I cannot let you go from hence without expressing the very sincere regret I feel at your leaving my corps, and assuring you that on any future occasion I shall be happy in serving with so able and spirited an officer. I heartily wish you a prosperous voyage, and a happy meeting with your family, and am with great regard,
Your most obedient and faithful servant,
Cochrane’s attempts to get home were met with drama; he was set upon by three privateers, whom he overcame and delivered back to New York as prisoners, returning to his schooner to be once again attacked by two rebel privateers from the New England shore, resulting in him jumping overboard and swimming back to shore to save the dispatches he carried whilst his schooner was taken.
Finally managing to get back to England, he collected his young family and brought them back to New York with him. Catherina and her two children waited there, in the October of 1781, while Charles Cochrane was sent to Yorktown in Virginia where a siege was underway, reaching Chesapeake Bay in a whaleboat on the 10th October with the French fleet firing on him as he landed. Perhaps he intended to rejoin the British Legion, now renamed as the 5th American Regiment and skirmishing with the French at Gloucester across the York River, but instead, he was appointed by Lord Cornwallis as his acting aide-de-camp.
A day later Lord Cornwallis was inspecting the defences and his newly appointed staff member accompanied him. Cochrane was allowed to fire one of the cannons himself, and he leaned over the breastworks to see where his shot landed in ricochet: a fatal error! A cannonball from the French and American lines (the American forces were commanded by General George Washington) was incoming, and as Cochrane leaned forward he was decapitated by it.[ii] Lord Cornwallis later surrendered his position.
His young widow was grief-stricken when she heard the news, and further tragedy lay in store for her, as her two young children both died young. Bereft, she returned to England.
At the church of St Bartholomew the Less, in the City of London, on the 19th February 1789 and after years of widowhood, Catherina married once more, to Charles Owen Cambridge.
Charles Owen Cambridge was the son of Robert Owen Cambridge (who added Owen to his name to inherit from an uncle), a poet and old Etonian who was a contemporary of the renowned letter writer Horace Walpole. And Horace Walpole, in turn, was the great-uncle of Lord Cholmondeley, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s lover and protector: as we note in our book, Grace’s world was but a small one no matter how far she or her family travelled.
Both parties to the marriage had been widowed for Charles Owen Cambridge had married previously in 1787 to a lady named Mary Edwards, only to be bereaved by her death, possibly due to an early and complicated childbirth, less than seven months later.[iii] His brother, the Reverend George Owen Cambridge, was the presumed suitor of the diarist and novelist Fanny Burney, only George showed a distinct disinclination to commit to a marriage with her. She did, however, mention the Cambridge family on many occasions in her diary.
A son, named Robert Owen, was born to Charles Owen Cambridge and his new wife Catherina, in 1790, baptised on the 6th August at East Lavant in Sussex. Sadly the tragedy which had dogged Catherina’s former life followed her into this new marriage, and the son died young aged only fourteen years.
Catherina and Charles Owen Cambridge did both lead long, and one hopes happy, lives; Catherina died in 1835 at the age of 84 years and Charles lived on until 1847, and the tremendous age of 95 years. They lived at Whitminster House in Gloucestershire, an old, and somewhat dilapidated in their day, medieval manor house.
A description of the manor house is available to view via the British History Online website.
Charles Owen Cambridge was a virtuous man. He paid for the education of fifteen boys and twenty-five girls in a day school in Moreton-in-Marsh and supported twenty-six boys and thirty-two girls in a Sunday school at the same place. He was also a zealous advocate of the proposal to adopt machinery instead of climbing boys to sweep chimneys clean. In 1828 Charles and another supporter of the campaign, E.J. Kirkman, Esq, attended a meeting at Fareham in Hampshire to consider this; Cambridge and Kirkham sent the machinery from Portsmouth and supervised the cleaning of three chimneys at the Red Lion Inn with this apparatus. The conclusion was that the chimneys were effectually swept clean in about a quarter of an hour, and the good people of Fareham who attended the meeting resolved to abstain from the use of sweeping boys and to persuade their neighbours to do the same.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s sister, Jacintha, had her own adventures in America during the years of the War of Independence, when she followed her own husband overseas, an interesting counterpart to Catherina Cochrane’s experiences. More information can be found in our book, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which not only covers Grace’s fascinating life but also documents the varied and interesting lives led by her relatives.
The Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining companion for the fair sex, June 1804.
Hampshire Chronicle, 18th August 1828.
Gloucester Chronicle, 12th January 1839.
The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney: Volume ii: 1787, edited by Stewart Cooke, 2011.
Memorial of Captain Charles Cochrane, a British Officer in the Revolutionary War, 1774-1781, by Mellen Chamberlain, 1891.
[i] James Robertson to Lord Amherst, 12 August 1780, in James Robertson, The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783, eds. Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard (Cooperstown, NY: The New York State Historical Association, 1983), p141.
[ii] Major Charles Cochrane has the unfortunate distinction of being the only British officer killed during this action.
[iii] Charles Owen Cambridge married Mary Edwards on the 26th July 1787 at East Lavant in Sussex; she died on the 14th February 1788.