Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle – an update

As many of our readers are aware, over the past few months we have been researching the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family in addition to our usual eclectic mix of posts. Some information about her life has now been in the public domain for a number of years, including the film made about her life, ‘Belle’, but since we began we have uncovered some new pieces of information about her life, that of her siblings and her husband and of course, there’s been renewed interest in her since the BBC programme about the painting itself.

Today we want to share some more information that we have received from one of our lovely readers, Chris Goddard, about John Davinière.*

In one of our earlier posts we gave the witness to Dido’s marriage as being John Coventry, Chris however, has suggested that it might have been a John Courtoy, a peruke-maker and one of the wealthiest men in London at that time. Both men’s signatures being extremely similar. If this is the case, quite what Courtoy’s connection to Davinière was we’re really not sure as yet, apart from them both being French. That mystery is still ‘work in progress’.

With the help of Chris, we have also pieced together a little more of what became of the Davinière family when they returned to France, after the death of Dido.

The town of Ducey where John Daviniere and his wife Jane lived
The town of Ducey where John Daviniere and his wife Jane lived

We know that John, his second wife Jane Holland and their son Edward returned to John’s place of birth, Ducey, France and that Edward returned to England for a brief spell to witness his brother’s marriage in London.

The newspapers in France confirm that their son, Edward was involved in an incident. It was reported that Edward Henry Davinière, aged 30, described as a medical student at the time, was forcibly committed to an asylum in Dinan, as he had threated to ‘blow out the brain’ of the mayor of Ducey and that he made threats against the mayor’s wife and her servant, following arguments with his father. Was Edward Henry unstable, was that possibly their reason for leaving England in the first place? This new piece of information brings with it its own questions for which more research is still required.

It would appear that perhaps in light of this incident, John felt it was time for a move, so advertised his beautiful house for sale.

Beautiful property for sale presently. It consists of a superb mansion, with kitchen, dining room, living room, three bedrooms, three closets and an attic; it is freshly parqueted, panelled, painted and carpeted – a laundry, cellars, shed, stable, wine press, vault and latrine; a garden, fruit and vegetable garden and an orchard; in total about eighty acres, is closed by beautiful hedges of bleached thorns, and is located near the village of Ducey, a very small distance from the departmental road of Alençon to St Malo. The house is furnished with a rich new furniture, that will be sold with the house if the purchaser wishes. To visit this property and discuss the price, contact Davinière who occupies it.

We know that John died in 1847 (his 9 page inventory is still a work in progress), leaving his widow Jane, a landowner/annuitant (le rentière) and their son Edward in France and that their daughter Lavinia Amelia was living with her husband family in London, but until now we didn’t know for certain whether mother and son remained in France. It appears that they did, as we have found Jane in January 1851, listed on a type of ‘census’ for Avranches, just a few miles from Ducey, no further information provided, just her name as the widow of Davinière.

Jane (or Jeanne-Marie Holland), as she was referred to, died at her home on Rue Ormont, Avranches, France in March 1851 at which time all her household belongings were sold off. The death notice gave her age as 53, this can’t possibly have been correct given the ages of her children though, Lavinia being 39 and Edward, 41. Perhaps a lady never tells her true age would be a wise assumption in this case and that 63 would appear much closer to the truth.

On 21st April 1851, the late Jeanne-Marie Holland, widow of Louis Jean Charles Davinière’s house and possessions were sold off. After his mother’s death, Edward was placed in the asylum in Pontorson during which time there was a guardianship case involving his sister who lived in England.

Pontorson Asylum
Pontorson Asylum

Edward Henry died at Pontorson on 29th May 1867.

From La Manche Archives
From La Manche Archives
The death of Edward with his parents clearly named
The death of Edward with his parents clearly named

At this stage, with the continued interest in the life of Dido, we thought it might be a good idea to provide links to all the individual articles under one roof. This will no doubt be added to as more information comes to light, so please do feel free to check back from time to time.

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

Dido Elizabeth Belle portrait – BBC Fake or Fortune

Dido Elizabeth Belle and John Davinière, what became of them?

Dido Elizabeth Belle – New information about her siblings

Dido Elizabeth Belle – A new perspective on her portrait

The Eighteenth-Century Fashion for Turbans

An Eighteenth-Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

Is Dido Elizabeth Belle still buried at St George’s burial ground in Bayswater Road?

Where are Dido Elizabeth Belle’s sons buried?

Who lived in these houses on Hertford Street, Mayfair?

Other articles/books that have been written about Dido and/or her family in the past that you might find interesting.

Adams, Gene.  Dido Elizabeth Belle: a black girl at Kenwood: an account of a protégée of the 1st Lord Mansfield

Byrne, Paula. Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle

Gerzina, Gretchen. Black London: Life before Emancipation

Minney, Sarah. Inside Out: Abolition of the British Slave Trade special

Stringfield, Margo. Real Story of ‘Belle’ has Pensacola Connections

There are also numerous blogs and books in addition to ours that have told part of Dido’s story which we’re sure you will find with by a quick online search.

If you have any questions or any additional information about Dido we would love to hear from you. New snippets of information seem to be appearing almost daily, which is great news and they are enabling us to piece together unknown bits of her life.

* We should also like to acknowledge Judy Jerkins who started the ball rolling with her research into the life of Courtoy and David Godson who has written an account of Courtoy’s life.

 

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Dido Elizabeth Belle, her portrait

For those of us who watched BBC’s Fake or Fortune which took a look at the stunning painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth, we were delighted that the team were finally been able to put a name to the artist which has been unknown for so long, and confirmed – as we suggested – that it was not painted by Zoffany.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

In our previous blog about the painting we did speculate that it may have been by David Martin but also offered ours and Etienne Daly (an expert in all things Dido)’s opinion that it was more likely to have been by Allan Ramsay given his familial connections. Well, we now have an answer – or do we?

As we’ve been asked whether our opinion has changed after viewing the programme, we decided to look at the evidence provided. This is quite a long post, so bear with us.

Our answer to the posed question is, in short, not totally, although we’re not and never have professed to be art experts. For us, there are still some questions which have remained unanswered.

If we’re trying to give Dido back her rightful place in society we need to start at the beginning of the programme and correct the first statement made about Dido.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was NOT born into slavery.  Whilst her mother had been a slave who was brought to England by Sir John Lindsay, Dido was born in England and not as a slave, but the natural daughter of an aristocrat. We know this from the snippet of information written by Thomas Hutchinson in his diary. Why would he fabricate this fact? He had nothing to gain and was merely repeating what he been told on previous occasions by Lord Mansfield.

I knew her history before, but my Lord mentioned it again. Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England, where she was delivered of this girl.

Next, Dido’s freedom was technically given by Lord Mansfield on 17th April 1782 when he wrote his will and not upon his death in 1793; she would have been just coming up to her 21st birthday, so perfect timing.

Along with confirming her freedom, Lord Mansfield gave her £100 per year, after the death of his wife, which took place in April 1784, to which he subsequently added a further payment of £200 ‘to set out with‘, plus £300 in a later codicil, making an overall total of some £900. That seems a strange comment for him to have made, but, it could be argued that if he thought he was to die shortly, that Dido would need to be self-sufficient as she may no longer have been able to live at Kenwood after his death.

Although Dido had never been a slave, this document was important as it would legally have affirmed her social status so that there could be no possible misunderstanding after his death, whenever that should come, and to ensure that there was no possibility of her ever being regarded as a slave. After Lord Mansfield’s death, she became a free woman with status, an heiress in her own right, which showed a good deal of foresight on Lord Mansfield’s part and ensured that she was financially secure.

Portrait of Lady Marjory - screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune
Portrait of Lady Marjory – screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune

Now, moving on to the portrait itself, based upon the scientific findings of Philip Mould and his team it would certainly appear likely that the portrait above, in the family’s private collection, was painted by the same person who painted the portrait of Lady Marjory. However, the programme left us to accept that (a) it was a painting of Lady Marjory and (b) that it was painted by David Martin and (c) some ten years previously, without explaining how they knew these facts. From our perspective and for clarity, it might have been helpful if those explanations of the provenance were offered.

Assuming it was Lady Marjory (- 19th April 1799), niece to Lord Mansfield, the similarities in style between the paintings was clear to see – the face shape, the lips, the fingers on the cheek. We know that Lady Marjory and Dido were close as Dido was a beneficiary in Lady Marjory’s will, so perhaps the pose was Dido’s attempt to emulate Lady Marjory’s portrait, although Lady Marjory’s attitude looks pensive, whereas Dido’s is slightly mischievous.

Portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido and Lady Elizabeth together - screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune
Portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido and Lady Elizabeth together – screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune

Whilst the technology has confirmed that the portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido were painted using the same paint, for us, it doesn’t confirm that they were by the same artist. Surely it’s feasible that two artists could have used the same paint – after all Martin was Ramsay’s protégé, so perhaps both used the same supplier? Theoretical, of course.

The expert, at the end of the programme, was also able to confirm, based on the evidence, that it was by Martin, but equally, he acknowledged that Martin had been Ramsay’s protégé. So, again, although Martin was a respected artist by that time in his own right, couldn’t either he, Ramsay or both have worked on the painting of Dido as a favour to the family, especially as Allan Ramsay was her uncle? We still hold the opinion that, given the playful nature of the portrait, it was definitely painted by someone with whom the girls felt relaxed and comfortable with. Arguably, either artist would fit the bill.

It was very interesting to note that the portrait was unframed, according to the 1796 inventory. Had it been a commission you would have expected it to be presented in a frame or framed by the family shortly after and given her status within the family it seems desperately sad that so soon after her marriage it had been stored away along with broken furniture etc. We also wondered why it hadn’t been retained by Dido as a keepsake if the family no longer had it on display.

Payment made to David Martin in 1776 from Lord Mansfield's accounts. Screenshot from Fake or Fortune
Payment made to David Martin in 1776 from Lord Mansfield’s accounts. Screenshot from Fake or Fortune

As suggested by that record in the accounts book, if the payment to David Martin was for the portrait of Dido,  then at best, Dido would have only been 15 years old; she does not look like a girl of 15, she looks to be late teens in our humble opinion.

The date of the painting has long been regarded as 1779 when it was attributed to Zoffany. We don’t think it is likely to have been painted much before that given that Dido was born in 1761; if dated to 1779 she would be about 18 at the time of it originally being painted. We do know that in 1779 her father, Sir John Lindsay was in England, so maybe he was aware of the painting and rather than being a commissioned piece is struck us that it was more likely to have been a keepsake or memento which, it could be argued would explain why there was no obvious payment for it.

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay)
Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay); Glasgow Museums

Also, it was on the 19th October 1776 that Lord Mansfield was raised from Baron to Earl, following which several copies of an earlier portrait by David Martin were produced, showing his elevated status.

Martin, David; William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice; National Galleries of Scotland

The original portrait at Kenwood is of Lord Mansfield prior to becoming an earl and dated 1775 (on Art UK) – note the difference between that and the one held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, dated 1777 (below) and painted after his elevation.

Was the 1776 payment for completion of the earlier portrait, or for the copies made subsequently rather than for the portrait featuring Dido?

William Murray (1705-1793), Baron Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice by David Martin; English Heritage, Kenwood (hint: look closely at his ermine)

Following the programme, Philip Mould has now added some exciting news which didn’t make it into the programme; the portrait we see today is not the original, as such, but rather it was added to at a later date by a different artist. The change to the portrait really does make a huge difference to the perception of Dido and her position within the painting and society in general.

And finally, Etienne Daly has visited Kenwood House frequently and has been trying to work out whereabouts the painting was done within the ground.

Could this be the very spot where the portrait was painted (the bare patch in the foreground)?

© Sylvia & Etienne Daly
© Sylvia & Etienne Daly

We are still trying to piece together the life of David Martin, but this is proving tricky. If we’re able together to do so, we will write another post in due course.

To find out more about what became about Dido Belle follow the links below.

Dido Elizabeth Belle and John Davinière, what became of them?

Dido Elizabeth Belle – we reveal NEW information about her siblings

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

The Eighteenth Century Fashion for Turbans

An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

 

Dido Elizabeth Belle and John Davinière, what became of them?

For our regular readers, you will by now have probably gathered that as well as all the other research we usually do, we have also been investigating the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.  Dido, her life and family have become something of an obsession for us of late and we have been busy piecing it together and trying to rectify some of the misinformation that currently exists.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle & Sam Reid as John Davinieré
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle & Sam Reid as John Davinière

We have recently shared with you new information about Dido’s siblings who were born in Jamaica, but in today’s post we are taking a look at what happened to the real Dido Belle, who, at the end of the film Bellewalked off into the sunset’ with her man, the lawyer, John Davinière.

*SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE FILM BELLE*

 Ducey as it looks today. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Ducey as it looks today. Courtesy of Wikipedia

John was not, the son of the local Reverend in Hampstead, nor was he a lawyer and as such would have had absolutely no involvement in the Zong massacre case. A little creative licence used with that one! 

John Davinière as he was known in England, was born Jean Louis Charles Davinière in the town of Ducey in the Normandy region of France and was one of several children born to Charles Davinière and his wife Madeleine Le Sellier. He was baptised on 16th November 1768, and so was several years Dido’s junior.

He left his native France for England towards the end of the 1780s, so, just prior to the French Revolution; the date of his departure from France is not quite clear as it appears in a couple of places later in his life at which time he gave differing years for his arrival into England. However, on coming to the country, he found work as a steward or valet, again the terminology of his occupation varies slightly.

No-one knows how he would have met Dido, but it seems likely that the Murray or Ramsay family would have been involved in some way. We do know that Allan Ramsay had painted a portrait of the 6th Earl of Coventry in the 1760s and Dido’s marriage entry provided us with a snippet of information in the shape of one of the witnesses – John Coventry, who was the third son of the 6th Earl of Coventry who owned a townhouse on Piccadilly so it seems quite likely that this would have been who John initially worked for as a steward. The other witness was Dido’s close friend, Martha Darnell.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

According to the Westminster rates books, not long after their marriage on 5th December 1793, at St George’s, Hanover Square, the couple moved into a newly built house, 14, Ranelagh Street North, near St George’s Hanover Square. It’s interesting to note that the happy couple married on the same day, at the same church and by the same vicar as the first Duke of Sussex and his bride Lady Augusta Murray.

Click to see enlarged image
Click to see enlarged image

They appear to have lived a happy life and with it, the arrival of 3 sons, of which two, Charles (1795-1873) and William Thomas (1800-1867) survived into adulthood, John, who we now know survived until at least 1804, then seems to have completely vanished. They wouldn’t exactly have been destitute as Dido received not only an inheritance from Lord Mansfield who died in 1793, but also, in 1799 upon the death of Lady Margery Murray, she received a further legacy of £100, as ‘a token of her regard for Dido’.

John Crauford. National Portrait Gallery.
John Craufurd. National Portrait Gallery.

In July 1804, Dido was sadly to die, leaving John to raise the boys alone. We now know that Lady Anne Murray who died in 1817, wrote her will after Dido died in 1804, in which she acknowledged that she knew Dido had left, but still left money to all 3 of her boys.

The actual date of her burial remains unknown as there were many burials at St George’s Fields that month and most unhelpfully there were not dated. Dido’s was number 56 out of  73, so it was probably towards the end of that month.

The entry in the burial register for Dido July 1804

The entry in the burial register for Dido July 1804. It is believed that her remains were removed during the development of that site, but no conclusive evidence exists to substantiate this. The whole site was not redeveloped, so it is quite feasible that her remains may still be there, potentially buried some 10+ feet down as deep burials were thought to prevent grave robbers.  Part of the redevelopment of that area now consists of dwellings.

Image courtesy of Etienne Daly who believes that Dido's grave may well be located in the area of the red dots (just above the square), which is outside of the property development therefore potentially still in situ
Image courtesy of Etienne Daly who believes that Dido’s grave may well be located in the area of the red dots (just above the square), which is outside of the property development therefore potentially still in situ

Shortly after Dido’s death John left Ranelagh Street and moved to live at 40 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, then nothing until we came across him being mentioned in the will of his employer, John Craufurd*, of Errol, Perth and Kinross who described John as his valet, leaving him a couple of bequests upon his death. Craufurd also provided a reference for Davinière’s son, Charles when he joined the Madras Army, so he clearly thought quite highly of the family.

The boys were clearly educated, as confirmed by a letter written by Charles’ tutor, as Mr James Carver, who had a private school, in PimlicoThey would have been taught, English, Greek, Latin and French, along with subjects such as accounts, land surveying, mathematics and drawing. Basically, all skills they would need to get a job in the military, finance or to go to university.  

charles Dainiere school

It appears that John didn’t remain single for very long, as he met and ultimately married his second wife, Jane Holland. The marriage took place in 1819 at St Martin in the Fields, but not until some years after they had produced a couple of children, Lavinia (1809-1888), who was born whilst they lived at Mount Street and Edward Henry (born 1812). This time the marriage was simply witnessed by two ‘serial marriage witnesses’, so no aristocracy present on this occasion.

It was to be shortly after the birth of Edward Henry that the couple moved again, this time to 31 Edgware Road where it appears they remained for several years.

Their daughter, Lavinia was to marry Louis Henri Wohlegmuth, a naturalised Frenchman in 1843 and confirmed her father’s name on the marriage register, but neither John nor Jane were present at the marriage as the newspaper confirmed that they had returned to John’s native town of Ducey, France, where John was to remain until his death on 31st March 1847.

From La Manche Archives

Upon his death, he left his possessions to his wife Jane and named all four children – Charles, Guillame (William), Lavinia Amelia and Edward.

The lives of the Charles and Lavinia and to a lesser extent, William Thomas, are reasonably well documented. Certainly the boys were well-educated as a document dated 8th February 1811, relating to Charles confirms, but we know very little about Edward, except that he travelled between Le Havre and England on 24th August 1837 which was quite possibly in order to be a witness at his half-brother, William Thomas’s marriage to Fanny Graham, which took place in September of that year and was clearly still alive when his father died. I have read online that Fanny Graham was a widow, so let’s just correct another mistake, as you can see here, she was a spinster.william

As there is no sign of either John’s widow, Jane or Edward the most obvious conclusion is that they remained in France.  The trail has, for now, gone cold on that front, but at least we are briefly able to add a little new information to the story of Dido Belle and John Davinière. (UPDATE – we have now found out some more about their life, so if you’d like to read our latest findings follow this link ).

To find out more about the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle that first sparked our interest in her follow the highlighted link.

If you’d like to listen to a podcast about Dido recorded for English Heritage click the highlighted link.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

If you’d like to know more about Dido Elizabeth Belle follow these links:

Dido Elizabeth Belle’s Descendants

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

Dido Elizabeth Belle portrait – BBC Fake or Fortune

Dido Elizabeth Belle – New information about her siblings

Dido Elizabeth Belle – A new perspective on her portrait

The Eighteenth-Century Fashion for Turbans

An Eighteenth-Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

Is Dido Elizabeth Belle still buried at St George’s burial ground in Bayswater Road?

Where are Dido Elizabeth Belle’s sons buried?

Who lived in these houses on Hertford Street, Mayfair?

HMS Dido

Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray

* History of Parliament Online (See John Craufurd)

Featured Image

Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Turnpike, from Ackermann’s Repository, 1810

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Dido Elizabeth Belle – New information about her siblings

We’re very excited to be able to bring you some new information about Dido Elizabeth Belle.

Dido was the natural daughter of a former African slave woman and Sir John Lindsay; she was brought up alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray at their great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield’s estate, Kenwood House in Hampstead, London. You may have seen the film about Dido’s life, Belle (2013).

Lauren Julien-Box as 'Young Dido' and Matthew Goode as 'Captain Sir John Lindsay' in Amma Asante's Belle.
Lauren Julien-Box as ‘Young Dido’ and Matthew Goode as ‘Captain Sir John Lindsay’ in Amma Asante’s Belle.

Well, today you are going to be the first to know a little bit more about Dido’s family.

Her father, John Lindsay, from a well-connected Scottish family, was a career naval officer who, in the summer of 1764, was knighted and eventually became an admiral.

It is well-known that he fathered Dido; less well-known are his other illegitimate children. In his will, written in 1783, Lindsay left a sum of money for the benefit of his two ‘reputed’ children, John and Elizabeth. It has until now, been assumed that the Elizabeth referred to in Lord Mansfield’s will was Dido, but we now know this to be incorrect. Sir John didn’t mention Dido in this document as she was provided for by the Earl of Mansfield and his family.

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay
Dido’s father, Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay; Glasgow Museums

Speculation has long been rife as to the birthplace and true identity of John and Elizabeth (if there actually was an Elizabeth) … well, we can shed some light on this, and share some information about two further children as well.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the eldest of Lindsay’s brood of illegitimate offspring, and she was born in June 1761 (her year of birth worked out from a notation against her baptism). Lindsay had arrived in Jamaica in the summer of 1760 aboard HMS Trent (1757), a Royal Naval 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate of which he was captain. He had been appointed to the ship since its launch and had already seen action off Cape Finisterre, Spain in 1759 and at the Siege of Quebec (Battle of the Plains of Abraham) in the same year. During the September of 1760 (Dido, if she was born in June 1761, must have been conceived around this time), the Trent was patrolling off the coast of Senegal, returning back to Jamaica at the end of the year.

On 4th January 1761, the Trent, captained by John Lindsay, captured the richly laden French merchant frigate Bien Aimè off Cape Tiburon after a forty-five-minute duel, arriving back in Port Royal, Jamaica with his prize later that month.

View of Port Royal, Jamaica by Richard Paton, 1758
View of Port Royal, Jamaica by Richard Paton, 1758; National Maritime Museum

At Dido Elizabeth Belle’s baptism, which took place in England some five years after her birth, her mother was named as Maria Bell. Reputedly, Maria was a slave being transported in a Spanish galleon which Lindsay had captured.

Thomas Hutchinson, the former governor of Massachusetts met Dido and recounted something of her background in his diary. He claimed that Maria Bell was brought to London on board the slave ship, heavily pregnant. However, it was not a slave ship but the captured Bien Aimè carrying sugar (which had been destined for France), which was the Trent’s prize and which sailed into the Downs under convoy in May 1761.

And, far from travelling home to England himself, Lindsay appears to be fully occupied elsewhere. In the early summer of 1761, the Trent captured a French slave ship off the coast of Guinea-Bissau and brought her into Bunce Island, off Sierra Leone.

On 31st October, he brought two prizes into port at Kingston, Jamaica, a Dutch schooner and a sloop richly laden with indigo, which he took near Haiti. And, there is one further pressing reason why John Lindsay must have been present on the island of Jamaica around May 1761.   

View over Kingston and Port Royal from Craighton, Jamaica
View over Kingston and Port Royal from Craighton, Jamaica, Marianne North; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Between March and July 1762, John Lindsay participated in the Siege of Havana under Vice-Admiral Sir George Pocock. Just before he had sailed from Jamaica, however, he had welcomed the arrival of a second child, a son named John Edward Lindsay who had been born on 19th February 1762. This child was not baptised until 6th November that year, in the church at Port Royal; the record in the baptism register described him as John Edward, son of John Lindsay and Mary Vellet, ‘a mulatto’.

The bombardment of Morro Castle on Havana, 1st July 1762. Captain John Lindsay is being rowed out from the Trent to take command of the Cambridge, right.
The bombardment of Morro Castle on Havana, 1st July 1762. Captain John Lindsay is being rowed out from the Trent to take command of the Cambridge, right. National Maritime Museum

Unfortunately, little John Edward was destined to die just over a month later. He was buried on 16th December 1762 at the Palisadoes Cemetery at Port Royal, aged almost ten months.

Captain Lindsay returned to England where, on 10th February 1764, he was knighted. Subsequently, he served during 1764 and 1765 at Pensacola in Florida as the senior officer.

It is not known whether he took Dido and her mother with him, but a Scotsman named George Gauld did make the journey. Working as a surveyor, Gauld made a sketch of the harbour at Pensacola, so we are able to see the scene which would have greeted Sir John Lindsay as he arrived there.

A View of Pensacola in West Florida by George Gauld, c.1765. Library of Congress. Hand colored by Dave Edwards. UWF Archaeological Institute
A View of Pensacola in West Florida by George Gauld, c.1765. Library of Congress. Hand coloured by Dave Edwards. UWF Archaeological Institute

The last two months of 1766 saw three events which had an impact on Lindsay’s life, although he may not have immediately been aware of all of them; while we cannot be sure of Lindsay’s whereabouts, Dido was certainly in London at the time.

A West Indian Flower Girl and Two other Free Women of Color, c.1769.
A West Indian Flower Girl and Two other Free Women of Color, c.1769. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Dido Elizabeth Belle was finally baptised on 20th November 1766 at 5-years of age; the ceremony took place at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury. Her father, now Sir John Lindsay, was not present nor did he bestow his surname upon Dido.

However, five days earlier, on 15th November 1766, another daughter had been born to Lindsay. The girl was named Ann and her mother was ‘Sarah Gandwell, a free negro’. It appears that Lindsay must have been in Jamaica in the first months of that year and that, nine months later, Ann was born on the island.

On 8th December 1766, yet another daughter was born, Elizabeth whose mother was simply named as Martha G. Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Lindsay was baptised a month later, on 10th January 1767, at Port Royal. This is the Elizabeth named in Sir John Lindsay’s will.

Bloomsbury Square, London; British School. Dido Elizabeth Belle was baptized at St George's, Bloomsbury, in 1766.
Bloomsbury Square, London; British School; National Trust Collections. Dido Elizabeth Belle was baptized at St George’s, Bloomsbury, in 1766.

Where was Sir John Lindsay at this time? Had he travelled back to Jamaica after Dido’s baptism, in time to be present to bestow his name on his third daughter at her own baptism ceremony?

If so, then he soon crisscrossed back across the ocean for, during 1767 and 1768, Sir John served as MP for Aberdeen and Montrose. A very big clue that he had indeed been present in Jamaica during the January and February of 1767 can be found in the birth of yet another child.

John Lindsay, son of Sir John Lindsay and Francis [sic] Edwards, a ‘free mulatto woman’ was born on 28th November 1767. Both he and Elizabeth are the two youngsters Lindsay referred to as his ‘reputed children’ in his 1783 will.  It had previously been thought – erroneously – that Elizabeth and John had been born in Scotland.

Frances Edwards was around 18-years of age and had been baptised herself in the church at Kingston just two years earlier.

A correct draught of the harbours of Port Royal and Kingston, with the keys and shoals adjacent &c. from a late accurate survey, by Mr. Richd Jones, engineer, 1756
A correct draught of the harbours of Port Royal and Kingston, with the keys and shoals adjacent &c. from a late accurate survey, by Mr Richd Jones, engineer, 1756. Library of Congress

At Kingston, on 2nd March 1768, we find John’s baptism recorded in the church registers; Ann was not baptised until 10th July 1768 at Port Royal, when she was 20 months of age. As she was not acknowledged in Lindsay’s will at all, possibly she died young although we have not found a burial for her on Jamaica.

After years of ‘sowing his wild oats’, Sir John Lindsay married Mary Milner (1739-1799) on 17th September 1768. The couple had no children of their own and we have to assume that Lindsay was a faithful husband as we have found no further records of illegitimate children belonging to him. But, with Dido settled at Kenwood with her great-uncle, the Earl of Mansfield and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, Lindsay did not neglect his former lover, Maria Bell, Dido’s mother.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

In 1773 Lindsay began a process to transfer a piece of property he owned in Pensacola, Florida to Maria Bell(e), with the requirement that she build a house there. At the time, Maria Bell(e) was living in London but a year later, when the deal was finalised, she had travelled to America. In the document, she was referred to as ‘a Negro woman of Pensacola, formerly of Pensacola, and then residing in London’.

A plan of Pensacola and its environs in its present state, from an actual survey in 1778, by Joseph Purcell.
A plan of Pensacola and its environs in its present state, from an actual survey in 1778, by Joseph Purcell.

The house that Maria lived in was on the corner of Lindsay and Mansfield streets (now Reus and Zaragoza streets), in what was then a high-class area owned by the British.

A Plan of the town of Pensacola, 1767 showing where Maria Belle's home would have been. Library of Congress (Click map to enlarge)
A Plan of the town of Pensacola, 1767 showing where Maria Belle’s home would have been. Library of Congress. (Click map to enlarge)

But, during the War of Independence, the Spanish gained control after the 1781 Battle of Pensacola; they compiled a list of property owners which included a Mrs Bell, widow. This is probably Dido’s mother and, if so, is the last known sighting of her.

Spanish Troops at Pensacola, 1781
Spanish Troops at Pensacola, 1781 via Wikimedia.

Elizabeth (born 1766) ended up in Edinburgh in the 1780s where, for reasons as yet unknown, she used the surname Palmer. On the 3rd May 1783, she married.

Peter Hill, merchant, New Kirk Parish & Elizabeth Palmer (same parish) alias Lindsay, daughter of Sir John Lindsay.

Peter Hill (1754-1837) was an Edinburgh bookseller and a great friend of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Elizabeth died at Dalmarnock, Glasgow on 26th January 1842, at the age of 76, of ‘decline’, and was buried by the side of her husband in the Canongate, Edinburgh.

John Lindsay (born 1767), retained the Lindsay name and joined the East India Company’s army on the Madras Establishment in 1788. In 1803, he wrote his will, naming his sister Eliza Hill, her husband Peter and his ‘girl and child’, as he referred to his young daughter and her Indian parent.

Lindsay’s own mother, Frances Edwards was still alive and named in his will; she was residing on Rum Lane in Kingston, Jamaica, a thoroughfare leading to the harbour, so he clearly never forgot his Jamaican roots.

It would be a further 18 years before Lindsay died; by that time he had risen from a captain to a brevet colonel. He met his end either at Chitradurga (or Chittledroog as Lindsay knew it) in Karnataka or at Kannur (Cannanore), India (sources disagree on the exact place) on 30th January 1821; he was buried the next day at Kannur. Lindsay’s statement of accounts shows that he died a wealthy man owning two properties, ensuring that ‘his girl and child‘ would have been well-provided for.

View of the hill-fort of Chitaldrug (Mysore). Inscribed on front in ink: 'North View of Chittle Droog by Lt Rowley, Engineer, in 1803.
View of the hill-fort of Chitaldrug (Mysore). Inscribed on front in ink: ‘North View of Chittle Droog by Lt Rowley, Engineer, in 1803. British Library

At Cannanore, while commanding the Provinces of Malabar and Canara, Col. John Lindsay, of the 7th regt. N.I.

To a mild, amiable and benevolent disposition, he added gallantry, firmness and manly conduct, which rendered him as valuable to society and his friends as he was to his profession.

Kenwood House belonging to the Earl of Mansfield where Dido Elizabeth Belle lived.
Kenwood House belonging to the Earl of Mansfield where Dido Elizabeth Belle lived. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To recap, we are now able to give the following children for Sir John Lindsay, all, with the possible exception of Dido, we believe to have been born on the island of Jamaica.

Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761 – 1804) (married John Davinière, 1793), mother: Maria Bell

John Edward Lindsay (1762 – 1762), mother: Mary Vellet

Ann Lindsay (1766 – unknown), mother: Sarah Gandwell

Elizabeth Lindsay or Palmer (1766 – 1842) (married Peter Hill, 1783), mother: Martha G

John Lindsay (1767 – 1821), mother: Francis [Frances] Edwards

N.B. In the List of Inscriptions on Tombs and Monuments in Madras, vol. 2, by Julian James Cotton (Madras, 1946), under the entry for John Lindsay’s burial in 1821, it is asserted that he married a Miss Diana Bunbury in Madras on 15th January 1816; this is incorrect. The John Lindsay who married Diana Bunbury was John Francis Vesey Lindsay (1783-1830). 

THERE ARE SEVERAL MORE ARTICLES AND NEW INFORMATION ABOUT DIDO ELIZABETH BELLE AND HER FAMILY, PLEASE CLICK here  TO READ THEM AND PERHAPS CONSIDER SUBSCRIBING TO ALL THINGS GEORGIAN TO RECEIVE FURTHER UPDATES. 

Sources:

More Than Nelson (www.morethannelson.com)

Jamaican archives

Real Story of ‘Belle’ Has Pensacola Connections by Sandra Averhart, 23rd May 2014

National Archives: PROB 11/1665/109, Will of John Lindsay, Colonel by Brevet in the service of the Honorable East India Company on their Madras Establishment of Madras, East Indies, 9th January 1823

British India Office deaths, burials and ecclesiastical returns

The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British India and its Dependencies, volume XII, July to December 1821

Dido Elizabeth Belle: a black girl at Kenwood, Gene Adams, Camden History Review 12, 1984, p.10-14

Sussex Advertiser, 11th May 1761

Aberdeen Press and Journal, 17th August 1761

Caledonian Mercury, 11th January 176

N.B. Mary Milner, Sir John Lindsay’s wife, was born on the 11th February 1739 in London

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Dido Elizabeth Belle – A new perspective on her portrait

In our previous blog about the turban that Dido Elizabeth Belle was wearing in the portrait of her with her cousin, the Honourable Lady Elizabeth Murray, we mentioned that the portrait was reputed to have been painted by Johann Zoffany and we promised to give you an update with some new information.

We now know more about the turban, courtesy of one of our lovely readers, Etienne Daly, who has been diligently researching Dido for some considerable years now and believes that the turban that Dido was wearing was not merely a fashion statement but was a gift to her from her father, Sir John Lindsay, so it was not part of a portrait ‘costume’ as had been assumed.

Sir John was invested as a Knight of the Bath in an extravagant ceremony in India on 11th March 1771.

A sketch of Sir John Lindsay KB, Prince Of Arcot (and father of Dido Elizabeth Belle), as he would have looked around the time of his investiture at the Chepauk Palace, Madras, India on 11th March 1771 when he was the King's ambassador to India. By Ian Sciacaluga.
A sketch of Sir John Lindsay KB, Prince Of Arcot (and father of Dido Elizabeth Belle), as he would have looked around the time of his investiture at the Chepauk Palace, Madras, India on 11th March 1771 when he was the King’s ambassador to India.

At that time he was presented with ‘a very rich dress of gold brocade, made after the European manner with the star upon the left breast,’ a ring with several titles engraved on it in Persian and a turban, all given by Nawab Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah.

Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot by Tilly Kettle, c.1772-1776. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot by Tilly Kettle, c.1772-1776. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We think it seems a lovely gesture that she would wear it as a ‘nod’ to her father, in the only known portrait of her. 

Dido Elizabeth Belle

If you look closely at the turban you will notice that it sparkles; it seems highly likely that it would have been studded with gold and diamonds. You will also note the presence of a black ostrich feather at the back of the turban. Now, this was a fashion statement! It is also worth mentioning that the fashion of the day was to wear rouge and Dido was no exception to this.

Ostrich feathers were all the rage in the mid-1770s and Dido’s uncle, Viscount Stormont bought some back from Paris in 1774. Perhaps he gave one to Dido and following the fashion, she added it to the turban?

The preposterous head dress, or the featherd lady, 1776.
The preposterous headdress, or the featherd lady, 1776. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Viscount Stormont also presented one to the Duchess of Devonshire on his return, and being the fashion doyenne of the day, she sent the fashion world into a spin by adding it to her hat. This sparked the caricaturists into a frenzy, creating the most elaborate caricatures with the largest of plumes, as you can see above.

The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.
The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.

It has to be said that the Duchess of Devonshire was mocked mercilessly and according to the British Museum:

Lady Louisa Stuart wrote in her old age of “the outrageous zeal manifested against the first introduction of ostrich feathers as a headdress. This fashion was not attacked as fantastic or unbecoming or inconvenient or expensive, but as seriously wrong or immoral. The unfortunate feathers were insulted mobbed burned almost pelted…”. 

Massachusetts colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman
Massachusetts colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman. Massachusetts Historical Society

When Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts, dined with Lord Mansfield in 1779 he met Dido and recorded the following in his diary:

A black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies, and after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other. She had a very high cap and her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel – pert enough.

We now move on to look at the artist of the portrait. It has long been reputed to have been painted by Johann (John) Zoffany, but this is now disputed, and to this day it remains ‘artist unknown’.

It is acknowledged that Zoffany went to Europe for several years, finally returning to England at some stage in 1779 the very year that the portrait was reputed to have been painted.

From the account of his life, John Zoffany, R.A. his life and works: 1735-1810, it tells us that he remained in Coblenz well into the summer of 1779. Although not impossible, it certainly would have given him little time to have painted Dido on his return. So, if we discount Zoffany that leaves only a few other possible artists, two of whom we think were feasible. One would be Allan Ramsay’s protégé, David Martin (1737-1797), who was known to the family as he painted the stunning portrait of Lord Mansfield.

William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield; David Martin
William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield; David Martin; English Heritage, Kenwood

The slight difficulty we have with the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray being painted by Martin is that again there is a question as to whether he was still living in England in 1779 or if he had returned to his native Scotland (although he retained his property in Dartford until 1782). Certainly, we know that in 1780 Martin was in Scotland when he was admitted to the Royal Company of Archers. Again, the dates are tight!

David Martin self-portrait. National Galleries of Scotland
David Martin self-portrait. National Galleries of Scotland

If it was definitively painted in 1779, then it is feasible that he could have at least had some input into the work, especially as Ramsay had severely injured his hand a few years previously which stopped him taking on any major projects.

The other difficulty we have with Martin is that Etienne has checked Lord Mansfield’s accounts. These proved inconclusive.

So, that leaves only the principal painter to the King (George III), Allan Ramsay, and although we don’t have the expertise to validate this, with the research we have done it would appear far more likely that it was painted by him. Why? Well, there are several reasons to suppose this.

Allan Ramsay, self portrait c.1755-1756.
Allan Ramsay, self-portrait c.1755-1756. National Galleries Scotland.

Firstly, we understand that the portrait was commissioned by Lord Mansfield, but there is no record in his accounts of him paying for any such portraiture.

Secondly, given the socially precarious position Dido held in Georgian society, then why not ‘keep it in the family’? Especially when you have an extremely distinguished portrait artist as an uncle to call upon, in the guise of none other than the Scottish portrait painter, Allan Ramsay who was married to Margaret Lindsay, the sister of Sir John Lindsay.

The Artist's Wife: Margaret Lindsay of Evelick, c 1726 - 1782 by Allan Ramsay.
The Artist’s Wife: Margaret Lindsay of Evelick, c 1726 – 1782 by Allan Ramsay. National Galleries Scotland

Thirdly, despite an earlier family ‘falling out’ over Ramsay being not regarded as a suitable match for Sir John’s sister, Margaret, we know that the family had been reconciled and Ramsay was, at this time, close to Dido’s extended family. Amongst his paintings, there was one, if not two portraits of Sir John Lindsay himself, so again, it would seem natural for him to paint his illegitimate daughter. Ramsay also named Lord Mansfield and Sir John Lindsay in his will, another sign of the close familial ties.

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay
Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay; Glasgow Museums

Finally, the posing of the subjects in the painting appears very relaxed and informal as if being painted by someone the girls knew well and were comfortable with.

Hopefully one day someone will be able to validate the artist and settle that unanswered question once and for all, perhaps one for the BBC’s Fake or Fortune to investigate!

To see the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth in situ, it would be well worth a visit to Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland or to the home, where she spent many of her years, Kenwood  House (Caenwood as it was formerly known as), Hampstead.

During our research into the life of Dido, we have also discovered NEW information about Sir John Lindsay’s other illegitimate children and  NEW information about what became of Dido and her husband John Davinière. To find out more follow the highlighted links.

UPDATE

Following the BBC’s programme Fake or Fortune, you might be interested to read our thoughts on the findings.

Sources:

The History of the Royal Company of Archers: The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland by Sir James Balfour Paul

General Evening Post, September 14, 1771 – September 17, 1771

English Common Law in the Age of Mansfield, by James Oldham

John Zoffany, R.A. his life and works: 1735-1810