St James's Palace with a View of Pall Mall; National Trust Collections

The Mysterious Marriages of Thomas Nelson

Charlotte Hayes, née Ward, aka O’Kelly was a highly successful Georgian brothel keeper and for those of you watching the TV series Harlots you will know her as the character, Charlotte Wells.

Actress Jessica Brown Findlay as Charlotte Wells in Harlots
Actress Jessica Brown Findlay as Charlotte Wells

We have briefly touched upon Charlotte in another of our blog posts about Samuel Derrick and much has already been written about her, but we came across her name in the newspaper in connection with another matter regarding her coachman and her cook, which simply had to be investigated further.

Possible portrait of Charlotte Hayes
Possible portrait of Charlotte Hayes

London Courier and Evening Gazette, 5th September 1815

THIRTY POUNDS REWARD – MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE – The said Reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as shall ascertain the time and place of marriage of Thomas Nelson. He was Coachman to Charlotte Hayes alias Mrs O’Kelly, Marlborough-street, in 1770 and soon afterwards kept a House the Corner of Hollen-street and Wardour-street; then lived in Winsley-street; in 1775 kept the Larder in Gerrard-street, Soho; then a House is Norris-street; in 1777 the George in Drury-lane; then the Cardigan Head, Charing-Cross; afterwards Almack’s, 56, Pall-Mall; and died at No. 60, Pall-Mall, in 1792.

His Will describes his Widow as Mary Nelson, the daughter of John and Mary Fogarty, but it is supposed he married Mary Kelly (who was Cook to the said Charlotte Hayes) by whom he had two Children, and who died in Duke-street, St. James’s, about 1785. Apply to Mr. Fielder, 9, Bennett-street, St. James’s.

We’re going to claim the £30 reward for this as we have found the marriage certificate that John Fielder was searching for.

17th April 1781 – Thomas Nelson of St Sepulchre married Mary Fogarty, also of St Sepulchre, by banns and in the presence of Sarah Fleming and Thomas Collier
17th April 1781 – Thomas Nelson of St Sepulchre married Mary Fogarty, also of St Sepulchre, by banns and in the presence of Sarah Fleming and Thomas Collier

But … everything is not quite as it seems. Clearly he married Mary Fogarty as it’s there in black and white and he was also very specific in his will, leaving everything to his ‘loving wife Mary, daughter of John and Mary Fogarty’.

When you dig deeper there are one or two anomalies. Thomas states he was a bachelor – was this true? Thomas appears to have moved around somewhat, changing his address and occupation.

Some ten years previously there was a reputed marriage for a Thomas Nelson to a Mary Kelly, the cook to Charlotte Hayes. So far there is no evidence that this marriage actually took place but, on 1st August 1774 at St Clement Danes, we find the baptism of a girl named Charlotte who seems to be their daughter, then on 26th August 1777 at St Mary-Le-Strand  the baptism of a second daughter, Sophia Augusta. She was named as daughter of Thomas and Mary Nelson of Drury Lane.

It wasn’t until 12th February 1816, when a case came to court pertaining to Thomas’ daughter Sophia Augusta, that things began to unravel. John Fielder, named in the above newspaper report was clearly trying to gather evidence against his wife Sophia whom he married in 1797.

The 1797 marriage record of John Fielder and Sophia Augusta Nelson.

John wanted the marriage nullified after almost 20 years, as he claimed that when he married Sophia her mother Mary gave permission, as Sophia was a minor, but that her mother, Mary (née Smith) was not married at the time and therefore should not have given her permission and that Sophia was born illegitimate.

So we now have three women all named Mary, connected with Thomas Nelson – Mary Smith, Mary Kelly and Mary Fogarty. The only one we can validate as his legitimate wife is Mary Fogarty.

During the case witnesses were produced, one of whom asserted that Nelson was married to Mary Kelly in April 1771, but we can’t find any proof to support this claim.

Mr Watts, an upholsterer, deposes that he furnished a house for Mr Nelson, upon his marriage with one Mary Kelly; that he, the deponent, was not present at the marriage, but he remembers their going out to be married; that, on their return they were married, and he dined with them upon the occasion, that they lived together two or three years, but then disagreed and parted; that he the deponent, was a trustee for Mrs Nelson; that he believes that he died in 1792, but knows that she was alive many years after the year 1788.

Interior of the Pantheon, Oxford Road, London by William Hodges and William Pars, 1770s; Leeds Museums and Galleries
Interior of the Pantheon, Oxford Road, London by William Hodges and William Pars, 1770s; Leeds Museums and Galleries

That in 1774 Mr Nelson removed into a street opposite to the Pantheon, in Oxford Street from thence to Gerrard Street, Soho, where he kept the Royal Larder, and lastly to Drury Lane, in 1776, at all which places he kept a gaming house and that whilst he lived in Gerrard Street, he went one evening with the deponent, to Bagnigge Wells.

Bagnigge Wells, 1783 © The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

That they there met with two young women, one of whom, Mary Smith, who from that time lived with Mr Nelson as his wife; that they had four children, to one of which he, the despondent, stood godfather; that he believes it was Sophia Augusta, and that she was born in 1777; that he often saw her during her infancy and latterly at the house of her mother, in Pall Mall, as Mrs Fielder.

If you are confused by this, spare a thought for us as we have tried to untangle it. Overall, though it would appear that Thomas Nelson cohabited with one or perhaps two Marys and produced several children including two daughters, then proceeded to walk up the aisle with Mary Fogarty, to whom he remained married until the end of his life (Thomas Nelson died in January 1792). It seems feasible that the witnesses in the court case could have been induced to lie to support Mr Fielder’s claim or quite simply believed that he was married to Mary Kelly and took the couple at their word. As to quite what the truth of the matter is we will probably never know – a secret he took to his grave.

 

For more information on Charlotte Hayes and the incredible but true story behind Harlots, see The Covent Garden Ladies: The Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List by Hallie Rubenhold.

 

Featured Image

St James’s Palace with a View of Pall Mall, British (English) School, National Trust Collections

 

Samuel Derrick, author of Harris’s List and his demise

1760 - Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer (London, England), May 8, 1760 - May 10, 1760
1760 – Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer (London, England), May 8, 1760 – May 10, 1760

Irish poet, sometime comic actor and most notably the author of Harris’s Ladies of Covent Garden; over the past few weeks we have been reading Harris’s guides to the seedier side of London 1760’s – 1790’s not really questioning who wrote them until we noticed an article written a few years ago in the Camden New Journal, in which the author of  The Covent Garden Ladies, Hallie Rubenhold, said that she had unearthed the author, but that she was still hoping to find his burial.

So, of course we were curious now to find out more about Samuel and hopefully provide her with the missing piece of her jigsaw – we simply love a challenge!

As usual we began by searching the internet and, as anticipated, much has already been written about the poet’s life, with conflicting information about the date of his death. We rapidly found ourselves confused by this man.

Apparently he died penniless with requests being made to help fund his funeral, then conflicting information saying that he was actually very wealthy when he died.

Harris’s list; or, Cupid’s London directory. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The newspapers contained much information, but the more we read the more confused we became about his death.

The St James’s Chronicle dated the 3rd – 5th March 1768 reported:

Mr Derrick who has laboured under a lingering disorder from which he was supposed to have been nearly recovered was on Tuesday evening seized of a relapse; and now lies very ill at his house in Orange Grove.

By December 1768 he had made a recovery, but in February 1769 it was reported that once again he was very ill whilst at Bath and was being attended by physicians.

an01081194_001_l
C1780. Courtesy of British Museum

A month later the same report was made in The Whitehall Evening Post. By the 11th March 1769 St James’s Chronicle informed its readers that he had died.  Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 13th March also referred to him as the late Mr Derrick, saying that in his position of Master of ceremonies he earned upwards of 1000l per annum.  We thought that was an end to our search, there it was in black and white – his death! No, they got it wrong!

Four days later, lo and behold he was still alive, although the newspapers said he wouldn’t be for much longer. The Whitehall Evening Post a few days later received a letter from Bath dated the 16th March –

Notwithstanding the newspapers have killed Mr Derrick, Master of Ceremonies sometime ago, yet he is still living but in so wretched a state of health, that he is not at all to be envied…

An advert appeared on the 19th March 1769  in  Pope’s Bath Chronicle about letting his house, perhaps a tad inappropriate given that Samuel was not yet deceased!

 To be Lett, and enter’d on immediately, a house in Bradley’s Building, very convenient, and in excellent repair, now inhabited by Samuel Derrick Esq, master of the Ceremonies of this city. The goods, which are new and in elegant taste, will be sold by private contract on the premises, or otherwise when the house is disposed of. Enquire of Mr. Smith, within two doors of the said tenement on the Horse Parade.

by James Gillray, published by William Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 9 February 1779
by James Gillray, published by William Humphrey, hand-coloured etching, published 9 February 1779 Courtesy of NPG

 Finally, after much searching we found the confirmation we were looking for – he was dead!  … his death being reported in the St James’s Chronicle dated Saturday 1st April 1769, confirming his death as the previous Tuesday i.e. 28th March 1769. Apparently at the time of his death he was worth a considerable sum of money which he left to a number of relatives in Ireland.

Believed to be a portrait of Charlotte Hayes

Oh no, a few days later this rumour of wealth was quashed by The London Chronicle, who said he died totally penniless with members of the nobility making donations to help finance him in his dying days. According to Charlotte Hayes, the courtesan and brothel keeper, Samuel bequeathed the profits of the final edition of Harris’s List to her, if that were true then he must have left a will, but no trace of it remains today!

We can finally confirm that Samuel’s burial took place at St Peter and St Paul’s church, Bath on the 2nd April 1769.

samuel_derrick_master_of_the_ceremonies_at_bath

Shortly after his actual death The London Chronicle (29th April 1769 – 2nd May 1769)  wrote anecdotes of his life in which they confirmed him to be the author of Harris’s Lists, the first edition being written by Derrick whilst confined at  Ferguson’s spunging house ( a place where debtors were held), which he sold to a publisher thereby obtaining his liberty.

derrick

It said that he lived with the celebrated actress Mrs. Jane Lessingham.  It seems likely that Harris simply lent his name to the book and possibly helped in providing some of the information, but Derrick actually wrote it (and wisely left his own name off!).

Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies, or Man of Pleasure's Kalendar for the year 1773.

There was also a not very complimentary physical description given for him:

… of diminutive size, with reddish hair and vacant countenance and required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind … he had a propensity for external gaiety which often induced him to appear in a laced coat, with a very dirty shirt.

Doesn’t that make him sound like a great catch??!

Foote apparently commented:

He was a very impudent fellow to have five embroidered coats and only one shirt.

From Derrick’s Jests there was a comment made by an Irish friend of his on seeing him in his coffin.

Ah poor Sammy, till this time hast been continually amidst a scene of bustle and noise; but, thank God, art now still for once in thy lifetime!

1770 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Saturday, December 29, 1770
1770 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Saturday, December 29, 1770

Hopefully we have finally managed to lay Samuel Derrick to rest in peace. Find out more about the life and children of his mistress Jane Lessingham.

Public Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 21, 1773
Public Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 21, 1773

51l0xwkerl-_sx361_bo1204203200_

To find out more about the women in Harris’s List we would highly recommend reading Hallie Rubenhold’s fascinating books ‘The Covent Garden Ladies’ and  ‘ The Harlot’s Handbook

If you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and his ‘fellows’ got up to on their numerous trips to London read this edition of the book they would have certainly carried around…Harris’ “List of Covent Garden Ladies” was a bestseller of the eighteenth century, shifting 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism. An annual ‘guide book’, it detailed the names and ‘specialities’ of the capital’s prostitutes. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris’ “List” was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died by the List’s profits during the Georgian era. Hallie Rubenhold has collected the funniest, ruddiest and most surreal entries penned by Jack Harris, “Pimp-General-of-All-England” into this hilarious book’.

 

Featured image Courtesy of Royal Museums, Greenwich