We have now reached the final part of the story and just in case you missed any, the previous parts can be found by clicking these links – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In this final part we return again to George and his wife Mary. In 1817 and they went on to have a daughter, Julia in 1817, about whom nothing more is known, so it perhaps has to be assumed that she died in infancy, but two year later the couple had a second daughter, Felicia.
It appears though, that their marriage didn’t last very long, as Mary left England and went to Italy, taking Felicia with her. During this time Mary was said to have had an affair with the Marquis Busca, Visconti of Milan and a son was to follow from this liaison. In 1835 Mary died in suspicious circumstances, allegedly via poison, at which time the Marquis adopted the boy and raised him as his own. Upon the death of the Marquis the boy inherited the bulk of the estate.
After the death of his adopted father, the child was due to marry the Countessa Della Porta, but in 1851 this was still on hold until his father’s estate had been sorted and his claim verified.
Felicia, however, returned to England at some stage and lived briefly with her father, George, but this was short lived as their relationship was described as being a somewhat volatile one and in 1839 she married an Italian widower, Louis Philippe Baldersar Mazzara at St George, Hanover Square, after which they returned to Italy, where they had two sons, Felix Alexander, who we will return to later, and Nicholas Charles.
The final part of this story concerns, the end of George’s life. He all but disappeared from public view in England and it has been note that he travelled abroad for much of his later life, returning to England just prior to his death, at which time when he was living at 8 Victory Cottages, in Peckham, Surrey, but no-one seems to know how he was living or what he was doing. To date, there is no sign of him on ether the 1841 or 1851 census returns, so it’s feasible that he travelled abroad for quite some time or was simply missed from the census returns.
The property at which he died didn’t seem to exist on the 1851 census so it must have been a recent build when George lived there. George died on 29 February 1806, his death being witnessed by an Ann Chapman, who simply made her mark, so unable to write her name.
George was buried a few days later, at Kensal Green Cemetery and left a will in which his small remaining estate was bequeathed to his sister in law, Clara, nee Leech Leake.
Following George’s death Messrs. Puttick and Simpson, auctioneers sold some of his possessions including a Stradiuarious (now known as Stradivarius, the oldest were known by the former name) and an Amati, two of the finest and now rarest violins ever made.
So, who initially purchased these items, was George ever paid enough to purchase them himself, or were they courtesy of the Prince of Wales? Maybe the royal accounts could shed some light on this matter.
The complicated story of the family and its ancestors didn’t end at the end of George’s life, no, not at all.
The Newcastle Journal, 3 February 1868 noted that Frederick Joseph Bridgetower was making claims to the throne of Abyssinia. This Frederick Joseph was the grandson of George’s brother, Frederick, who was mentioned much earlier.
He claimed that he was descended on his father’s side from the original heir to this empire and that his great grandfather was an Abyssinian nobleman who had two sons born in England i.e. George and Frederick. He explained that his grandfather had married in 1808 and died in 1813, leaving a son and daughter, the former being the claimants’ son. The claimants’ father was born in 1812 and married Catherine Richardson in 1836 and died in 1859. He hoped to be recognised also as great nephew to the black prince, Sir George Bridgetower (of course, George was never knighted!).
He claimed that family misfortunes had deprived him the means of proving his antecedents until recently the claims of his second cousin, Felix Alexander, recognised as the descendant of King Solomon the son of David, had revealed the fact of his right in claiming the empire of his forefathers by paternity.
So, that was two claims to this throne being made by both sides of the family. This sounds very much like one of those stories that get passed down through the family, but one which is to this day completely unprovable.
The Liverpool Mercury of 2 May 1868 weighed in on the debate and suggested that if he believed he had a claim to such a throne then he had better go there and take it.
We are sure that the British Government will never be so foolish as to support his pretensions.
This claim of royal connections rumbled on for a few more years and the Isle of Wight Observer, 7 May 1870 had an interesting article:
Frederick Bridgetower appeared before the Southampton Bench, describing himself as ‘The Emperor of Abyssinia’. He was described as a printer of Simnel Street, Southampton, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in the High Street. On being placed in the dock and questioned as to his name and address, he said he was King Frederick Joseph and the rightful heir to the throne of Abyssinia. The previous evening the defendant was discovered making a great deal of noise and appeared to be going through a theatrical performance. He was very drunk and wearing a crown, making claims about the throne. He was found to be carrying a card, on which it was printed H.R.H Frederick Joseph S Bridgetower, Emperor of Ethiopia and Abyssinia. Mr Palk the magistrate, told him that he would be sentenced to prison for seven days and advised him not to drink once freed.
How much truth there has been in this we may never know, but some of it seems highly unlikely and something of a very tall tale, passed down through the generations with much credibility by all who were told of the story.
What happened to Joseph Frederick after these claims, well there was one final sighting of him, leaving England and heading to America, what became of him from there, maybe someone will be able to shed some light on what became of him.
Another of Joseph’s siblings, John Henry spent much of his life in the lunatic asylum from the age of fifteen until his death at the age of forty-six and one of their siblings, Catherine, named after her mother, died aged about one, following an accident caused by her sitting down on a smoothing iron and burning to death, the inquest partially blamed her mother for neglecting the child.
Given the number of descendants, it would seem highly likely that George and Frederick’s ancestors are still out there somewhere.
We begin the third part of George’s life in March 1794, but just in case you missed the earlier parts, click on the highlighted links to read part 1 and part two .
George had been busy studying and performing at the New Theatre Royal, still under the pupillage of Barthélemon. Over the subsequent weeks his name regularly appeared in the press, still working at the same theatre.
From the quarter ending October 1795 until 1809 George’s name appeared on the Royal Household payroll as a musician, along with a Mrs Bridgetower, could this possibly have been his mother, reputed to be Mary Ann nee Schmid, whose name appeared between 1802 and 1809, as a recipient of an annuity of seven pounds, ten shillings?
On 19 October 1796 Lloyd’s Evening Post confirmed that George was still employed by the royal family, by this time, George was about sixteen and continued to be mentioned regularly by the press until the end of the century.
The Princess of Wales has music three or four times a week; last night the party consisted of Mazzinghi, Atwood, Cole Bridgetower (the black boy) who generally plays concertos on the violin, and Schram. Her Royal Highness also plays on the pianoforte and sings with Lady Willoughby.
In 1802 George was granted leave to visit his mother and an unnamed brother, a cellist in Dresden. We know from earlier that there was a possible brother for George, Johannes, but could the cellist have been another sibling? We will find out later.
It was whilst in Dresden that young George gave at least two concerts and having gained success with these, he went on to Vienna. It was whilst there that he was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven who wrote for him Sonata No 9 in A Major Opus 47, which was originally named ‘Sonata Mulattica’, but was quickly renamed following an argument between Beethoven and Bridgetower over a woman becoming now known as ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Despite the renaming, the Rodolphe Kreutzer never actually played the sonata.
Towards the end of May 1805, according to the British Press, George advertised a forthcoming concert at the New Rooms, under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, where he would play the violin and his brother Frederick, the violincello, on 23 May. Tickets being sold at half a guinea each could be obtained from his lodgings at 4 Great Ryder Street, St James, London.
Rates returns for that period show that the property was owned by a Richard Davies, but there are no clues as to who he was, but it was clearly a property in an affluent area, as his next-door neighbour was The Honourable Mrs Keppel.
Was this the mysterious brother, Frederick, who had travelled with him back to England? It would certainly appear to be and so, we will look at what became of him later, but he was certainly in England with George by 1805 if not before.
In September 1805, George’s father made a re-appearance in the newspaper, things were clearly not going well for him. This time he was in Exeter, alongside a woman who had been found to be an imposter. The article went on to describe the imposter as:
Rev. John Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, otherwise Lieutenant General Mentor, lately serving under Touissaint L’Ouverture, otherwise the Black Prince. This person speaks fluently English, French, German, Italian and Polish languages.
Therefore, it would appear that George’s father was no longer in an asylum, but had instead, headed south for reasons unknown.
The last public sighting of George for some time was in the Morning Post, 30 March 1808, still performing at Hanover Square. He then vanished for a while once his payments from the Prince of Wales ceased in 1809, but where did he go? It is known that he attended Cambridge University, where he continued learning his craft and began composing music. From the National Register, 30 June 1811 we learn that:
His Royal Highness will attend at St Mary’s in the afternoon, when the sermon will be preached by the Rev Dr. Butler’ after which a musical exercise will be performed, composed by Mr Bridgetower, as an exercise for his Bachelor’s degree.
It is now known that his brother, Frederick had moved to Ireland, presumably from London, as that was stated at the time of his marriage in January 1808 to Elizabeth Guy, the daughter of John Guy.
Frederick continued to perform as a cellist and to develop his skills as a composer  and on 13 April 1808 made his debut performance in Dublin, as a cellist, at the Rotunda on Upper O’Connell Street in the city.
Not only was Frederick a performer, but he was also a composer and teacher.
According to The Hibernia Magazine and Dublin Monthly Panorama volume 3, 1811, Frederick performed some ‘charming instrumental music’ for the Beefsteak Club, at Morrison’s Hotel on Dawson Street.
It was around that time that Frederick composed ‘Six Pathetic Cantonets’ which were dedicated to the Italian Opera singer, Madame Catalani. Copies of his works, ‘A Pastoral Rondo for the pianoforte’, dedicated to a Miss Martha Collins, ‘Six Chromatic Waltzes’ and Multum in parvo’ are held by the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
Life however was not kind to Frederick and his wife as around the time of the birth of their one son, Frederick Joseph, Frederick senior died on 18 August 1813, leaving Elizabeth alone to raise her child. We know that Elizabeth and her son remained in Ireland as Frederick junior was to find himself in trouble with the law in 1833.
According to The Pilot, 12 April 1833 young Frederick found himself involved in the Newry riots, between Catholics and Protestants, also known as Orange Men, during which he fired a pistol which resulted in him being sentenced to sixteen months in prison with hard labour.
After serving his sentence he left Ireland for Liverpool, where in 1836 he married a Catherine Richardson and they had eight known children. Frederick’s career was somewhat confusing as he was noted as a journeyman shoemaker, so didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, however, on the marriage entry for one his daughters (Jane Guy), he was described as a professor of music, so quite which occupation he followed we may never know.
Frederick and Catherine’s eldest son, a Frederick Joseph, named after his father, born in 1840, we will return to later as his story is very relevant to George’s history.
We can only assume that Eliza remained in Ireland as her name appeared in the newspaper in the Newry Telegraph in 1849 when she developed cholera, whether she died from that remains unclear at present.
Returning back again to George, and in March 1816, at St George, Hanover Square he married Mary Leach Leake, the daughter of Edward Leech (rather than Leach) an affluent businessman (a cotton manufacturer according to his will) late of Kensington Square, London and a Mary Leake.
In the Times, 23 October 1832 there was a report of the death in 1807 of a woman who appears to have been George’s mother, so if that were the case, then money was being paid by the privy purse for some considerable time after her death:
Notice to Heirs and others – All persons who have any claim on or to Property, amounting to about 800 Saxon Dollars, left by the late Mary Ann Bridgetower, who died at Budissen on the 11th of September, 1807, are hereby directed to make known and prove the same by themselves, or their attornies, at the sittings of the magistrates of the said town, on or before the 12th of March, 1833, or they will forfeit all right and title to the said property – Dated at Budissen, in the kingdom of Saxony, 8th August, 1832. By order of the Sitting Magistrates.
At the time George married in 1816 a newspaper report came to light from the other side of the world, which raises some interesting questions about who exactly George’s father was.
This was a gentleman who went by the name of Augustus de Bundo who, on the face of it led an amazing life, but how much of his life story reported in the Royal Gazette, Jamaica, 26 October 1816 was true will forever remain questionable.
This elderly black man presented a petition before the Corporate Body of Jamaica requesting poor relief. In order to obtain this, he had to provide details of how he had come to find himself in such dire straits and with that, he set about providing them with a lengthy account of his ancestry, education and travel. He gave his full name as
Augustus Frederick Horatio, Prince de Bundo and stated that his mother was a Cherokee Indian Princess and his father was Almas Ali Achmet, a Turkish merchant, formerly of Mahometan and that his parents married in London.
He also claimed that his grandfather was the high priest of Bundo, Africa and it was through him that he claimed his title of Prince de Bundo. There appears no such place as Bundo, but there is a Bundu, so it is feasible that was where he meant.
He stated that he was born at Staines, Surrey and that at the age of seven was sent to Eton to be educated, where he remained until the age of sixteen; from there he travelled to Besançon, France where he studied for five years at the College of St Paul. Then went to Strasbourg where he entered St Bartholomew’s College to study theology, then on to Gottingen, Hanover.
In 1776/7 aged thirty-three, he returned to England, attended Oxford College, for four years, entered the university, and after a residence of sixteen months, took a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following this he was
Ordained a priest of the Church of England by the Bishop of Derry, who also promoted him to be a Deacon, that being a higher order in the church. He was then appointed as a Minister of a church in Pyrmont, Hanover and officiated there for four years until he was driven out by the French under General Junot in 1800. He travelled all over the continent and was well received at different courts.
Having carefully checked every fact in his account, the conclusion would have to be that, as fascinating a story as it is, it has more holes in it than a colander. His name does not appear in the registers of Eton, nor at Oxford, nor in the Church of England records, but that of course depends upon what name he would have been known by. Also, I can find no such college as St Paul, nor St Bartholomew’s. If he were ordained into the Church of England it would have been by Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, also titled Bishop of Derry.
His notion of being promoted to deacon could not be correct, as deacon was a lower position than a vicar/priest. It isn’t possible to provide any validity into his claim about General Jean-Andoche Junot, but date wise it doesn’t appear to make sense.
It does, however, appear that whoever he was, he was either someone who was extremely well-read or very well-travelled or both.
Now, here is the only part of his story which has some elements of familiarity, although again, it doesn’t quite add up. His testament continues –
He married a Polish Princess, the daughter of Prince Morowski and receive a dowry with her, in money, lands, castles etc which he enjoyed until the troubles in that country which obliged him to quit Poland. It was at Pyrmont where he first saw his wife, she went to a nunnery there for her education. After leaving Poland he returned to England and was well received by the Prince Regent, with whom he was on the most intimate and friendly footing, having received from him a general invitation to visit at all times, of which he availed himself, particularly at Brighton. The prince introduced him to the Queen and the rest of the Royal family, who were all kind and attentive to him.
In his testament he asserted that the Prince Regent had stood godfather for his son, who was the leader of the Princes private Chamber Music, his other son was also in royal service and that
The Prince Regent also asked that he be introduced at the British Court in the costume of a Mahometan on horseback.
This reference to him having a least two sons is extremely interesting and their connection with the Prince Regent, begins to make sense in terms of George and Frederick, in all likelihood is one of the few verifiable parts of his testament. How could this man have known the prince or have known about George and his brother?
He said that he frequently attended court balls, however, being a clergyman, he never danced. He was intimately acquainted with, and dined with, William Wilberforce.
He had a brig built, called The Isabella, which he jointly owned with his mother, which he registered at Lloyd’s, (having trawled through the Lloyd’s register from 1800 – 1815 there is no obvious sign of such a ship). He claimed to have loaded The Isabella, sailed to Barbados where he sold the cargo and took on another of sugar and rum for Cape Henry on the coast of Virginia.
Disaster befell him on 25 June 1816, when the ship was wrecked, and he lost everything. The crew were dispersed, and he went to Havana, from where he obtained passage in his Majesty’s ship The Tay. The Tay was being captained from 24 January 1816, by a Captain Samuel Roberts who sail from Portsmouth to Havana then on to Jamaica, having apparently taken on board Augustus at Havana. Augustus made specific reference to Captain Roberts in his testament, saying that the captain would testify to the accuracy of his claim. So, it seems feasible that perhaps one or two elements of his account may have had a grain of truth in them.
He also stated that his mother, who was nearly 80 years old was living in Antigua along with her sister, and that she had many possessions which she inherited from her ancestors and that he had some £12,000 in funds, he believed, in the Stock Exchange and his wife, a Polish princess lived in Staines, at a farm that they owned.
However, the following day, he was called back for a further interview, and clearly overnight he must have realised that his story sounded too far-fetched and so provided a much shorter revised account. He no longer made claims about being a Prince, but instead, said he was a Knight of the Thimble i.e. a tailor.
According to this revised testament, Augustus said that he was a native of Barbados, where he was born a slave, but being very intelligent he was sent to England as a servant to one of his master’s sons, where he learnt to read and write. His young master completed his own studies and was to return to Barbados, along with his servant, but Augustus had other ideas, decamped and passed himself off as a free man.
Now this does have more credibility, especially in light of a woman who lived in Barbados by the name of Rachel. Now, bear with this apparent digression from the story, but it may have some relevance.
She was born about the same time as Augustus and was the daughter of a William Lauder and a slave woman. She developed a friendship with a Thomas Pringle and changed her surname to his. Rachel opened an hotel in Bridgetown, where she provided entertainment for sailors and royalty after a long sea voyage. When her relationship with Pringle finished, she met a man called Mr Polgreen and took his name too becoming known as Rachel Pringle Polgreen. There was a plantation in Barbados connected to the Polgreen family, so that may have been who she had a relationship with.
Rachel died in 1791 leaving some considerable assets. Now, could there have been some connection between Rachel’s gentleman Mr Polgreen and George’s family, hence George taking that as a middle name, combined with a reputed family connection with Barbados? This may well remain pure speculation of course.
Returning to Augustus, this is the only documented part of his life story so far, but as you can imagine, the authorities were less than impressed and believed it to be pure fantasy. With that, he was dismissed with a caution to behave himself and in reply he said he would find the first opportunity to leave the country.
The testament took place in October 1816, and just four months later, an application was made to the court by Augustus, still sticking to his story that he was of princely origin, only this time he was requesting that the court procure for him a passage to England.
This was eventually agreed to and they gave him ten pounds to purchase provisions and a few days later he was sent packing on board the Queen transport ship, bound for Portsmouth. It would appear that the authorities were pleased to finally see the back of him and happy to send him on his way back to his alleged home – England.
Augustus returned to England and what became of him from then is still unknown. The only vague sighting of him was an entry in the Poor Records for St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1817. The entry simply references a man, named Frederick Bridgetower, aged 63 i.e. born c1754, seeking poor relief, which would make this gentleman about the right sort of age and given the unusual surname it does sound feasible that he did return to England, but penniless.
Could Augustus have been George’s father? We will probably never know, but if so, then it adds another dimension to his life. Do join me next week for the end of this tale.
Today we continue with the story of George’s life, but if you missed last weeks and would like to catch up, just click on this highlighted link.
We begin this part of George’s life with the assistant keeper of Queen Charlotte’s wardrobe was a Mrs Papendeik, who very helpfully kept a journal and clearly knew of George and his family and in her journal made the following notes of their meetings 
About this time an adventurer of the name of Bridgetower, a black, came to Windsor, with a view of introducing his son, a most prepossessing lad of ten or twelve years old, and a fine violin player. He was commanded by their Majesties to perform at the Lodge, when he played a concerto of Viotti’s and a quartet of Haydn’s, whose pupil he called himself.
Both father and son pleased greatly. The one for his talent and modest bearing, the other for his fascinating manner, elegance, expertness in all languages, beauty of person, and taste in dress. He seemed to win the good opinion of everyone and was courted by all and entreated to join in society; but he held back with the intention of giving a benefit concert at the Town Hall.
Mr. Jervois insisted upon the Bridgetowers coming to him after the boy had played at the Lodge, as he wished to hear him before he took tickets or interested himself in the business. Charles Griesbach and Neebour had promised to come to assist in the performance, but there was to be no audience beyond the regular set or squad — Papendieks, Stowes and Mingays. After supper, the music-room was ready, and then the father would not let his son play!
Also present at the gathering was the artist, Johan Zoffany who had recently returned from India. In her journal she continued to provide additional snippets of information about the Bridgetower’s, curiously naming George’s father as Ralph West Bridgetower, which is not a name that appears to have been noted anywhere else, was this another pseudonym or more likely a simple mistake on her part?
While I was playing the duet with Rodgers, he sat on the ground between us, after which that dear little soul kissed us and went off to bed. The duet, which we played without a fault, pleased greatly, and was followed by more singing, and Bridge tower’s two quartets and a symphony to finish made a long second act. Then we again had refreshments, and supper in the parlour for the performers. Over this meal we had a pleasant chat. Ralph West Bridgetower (as he was named) was most fascinating, young Lawrence elegant and handsome, and very attentive… Twenty- five guineas Mr. Papendiek put into Bridgetower’s hand, taking nothing from Mr. Jervois as he compelled him to come. The ladies being gone I went to bed, after making arrangements for Zoffany, but the gentlemen made a merry evening of it.
Abbott, Lemuel Francis; Sir William Herschel; National Portrait Gallery, London;
This circumstance occurred in the spring of this year, 1789. Madame de Lafitte educated the daughters, and many lent a helping hand. Indeed, through life did this family experience the same kind friendship on all sides. I now went to town for a few days to see my mother and brother, and finding that the Herschels were also going to London, I took a seat in the afternoon post coach, contrary to my usual custom of travelling in the morning, in order to accompany them. William HerschelI was much surprised, when taken up, to find Bridgetower in the coach. He said he was going to engage lodgings, preparatory to their settling in town for the winter. I knew the Herschels would not like being in his company, but it was a public coach, and nothing could be done, so we proceeded all together. At the White Horse Cellar, I urged the Herschels to take a hackney coach and see me safe to my mother’s; but no, they went on by the same conveyance to Paternoster Row, and I proceeded alone to St. James’s. In the dark passages in the Palace, that black, Bridgetower, suddenly presented himself, under the desire of being introduced to my father and mother. I told him that my parents from age and ailments did not allow these freedoms to their children, and I entreated him not to trouble me, as the door on the staircase where we stood led to the public apartments of the Palace, and, as I was generally known, I should not like to be so seen. He then said he wanted to borrow a little money. I took my purse out quickly and gave him all I had, a guinea and a half, and begged he would not attempt to call, as he would not be admitted. I watched him safely away, and then ran quickly to my home. I dared not tell my father, as he was angry enough about our exertions at the concert, observing that he knew from experience that no foreigner who asks anything from one, ever returns one’s aid either in gratitude or kind. … On my return, Bridgetower called, having previously sent the money, so he was straightforward enough in this instance, but I told him in Mr. Papendeik’s presence never again to ask us to lend money, for we had already done what we could. I added that he must not conclude that the whole of the 25/. put into his hands after the concert had been received for tickets. He, of course, was not over well pleased with this speech, but I began, as did many others, not to be altogether satisfied with his conduct. He shortly went to London with his son, and obtained an introduction to the Prince of Wales, who took a particular liking to the lad, and admired the father for his general elegance.
The Morning Post of 25 November 1789, under the heading ‘Bath’ reported that,
Amongst those added to the Sunday promenade was the African Prince in Turkish Attire. The son of this African Prince has been celebrated as a very accomplished musician.
The local newspapers in Bath were constantly singing the praises of both father and son. Before and after the performance George’s father strolled along the promenade with George dressed in Turkish attire, attracting a great deal of attention.
The Morning Post of December 8, 1789 noted:
The young African prince, whose musical talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Saturday morning than has ever been known in this place. There were upwards of five hundred and fifty persons, and they were gratified by such skill on the violin as created general astonishment, as well as pleasure. Rauzzini was enraptured and declared that he had never heard such execution before, even from his friend, La Motte, who was, he thought, much inferior to the wonderful boy. The father was in the gallery, and so affected by the applause bestowed on his son, that tears of pleasure and gratitude flowed in profusion. The profits were estimated at two hundred guineas, many persons having given five guineas for each ticket.
A further insight into George’s father was provided by The Derby Mercury 10 December 1789, but with no mention being made of his mother, was she with them? It would later appear that George was only accompanied by his father.
The father is quite black, about the age of 35, tall, well made and remarkably agile. The son is of a mixed colour, his mother being a European, and one of the Polish nobility. They both speak most of the modern languages (particularly English) very fluently.
Just two days later, the Morning Post 12 December 1789, noted George’s performance.
The favourite concertante of Pleyel, a concerto on the bassoon by Holmes, another on the pianoforte, by Mrs Miles (Late Miss Guest) and one on the violin by Master Bridgetower, the little mulatto, who is not eleven years old, and yet a wonderful performer, were the instrumental excellences.
One of the most famous black musicians at the time was the Chevalier de Saint Georges, who, it appears was a good friend to the family.
The accomplished negro and his boy Bridgetower was born in Jamaica, and generously emancipated by his owner, on the score of wonderful talents. He has since visited Russia, Italy, Germany and France. It was his good fortune at Paris to acquire the friendship of the Chevalier St. George. He married a Polish lady of quality, from whom this miraculous child descended. The boy has been tutored by Haydn, the consequence is eminently honourable to the musician and his disciple.
According to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (17 Dec 1789), George remained in Bath and on Christmas Eve entertained an audience with a violin concerto between the first and second Acts of Handel’s Messiah, at The Assembly Rooms.
The Oxford Journal 16 January 1790, excitedly reported that Oxford
Would have the pleasure of informing the public in general, and the cognoscenti in particular, they are likely soon to be gratified by hearing the wonderful abilities of Master Bridgetower on the violin, he being daily expected in this city.
It was rapidly becoming apparent from the media though, that George’s father was becoming more of a hindrance than a help in progressing his son’s career. Was he simply a ‘pushy father’ or was there something more concerning about his behaviour? That will become clear later.
Miss Cantelo’s benefit concert at Bath was not equal to her friends’ expectations, notwithstanding Harrison and young Bridgetower both exhibited.
The Black Prince, father of the violinist, by being too officious, has lost the countenance of most of his benefactors, as his concert showed last Saturday morning at the Lower Rooms, – not fifty attended.
However, on 12 February 1790, The Public Advertiser announced that the following week, George would make his first performance in London at Drury Lane, when he was again to play a concerto between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.
The day after the event, Woodfall’s Register, and The Public Advertiser provided their reviews of his performance and once again, this raises questions about George’s age, as in an earlier account he was said to be nearly eleven, this time, not yet ten!
Master Bridgetower, son of the African Prince, is a phaenomenon in the musical world. After the second part of the oratorio, he performed a concerto on the violin, which though not ten years of age, he executed with a degree of delicacy and skill that would have done credit to any professional man of the most established reputation.
By this time, George’s father was beginning to create major problems and appeared to be somewhat unstable, and there was an outburst in March 1790, which was alluded to in The Times, 15 March:
The Black Prince would do well, before he dare to disturb the peace of the English audiences – to study the old ballad – of “There’s a difference I sing, “Twix a Beggar and a King.”
Yet another snippet from Mrs Papendeik’s journal also appears to support this:
During this time, we were again annoyed by a visit from Bridgetower. He, one morning, going as he said to Salt Hill or somewhere in the neighbourhood, left his son with us, who took the opportunity to disclose to us his unhappy situation. He said that his mother was left in distress, and that the money he could earn by his music was wasted in crime even in his presence, and added that the brutal severity of his father must soon lead him to some desperate act. Mr. Papendiek could only pity and persuade the poor lad to be careful not to provoke or aggravate this man, now found out in his wickedness. When he returned, we had luncheon, and then they went off to London.
We heard in a short time that the son had taken refuge at Carlton House, and that the father had returned to Germany. Mr. Papendiek called to inquire into the business, when the Prince of Wales told him that one evening Bridgetower, having returned home with a companion, had desired his son to get under the sofa and to go to sleep. The first part of the command he obeyed, and, watching his opportunity, made his escape. He ran to Carlton House, where from having often been there to perform, he was well known and on supplicating protection, he was taken care of till the morning when the circumstance was related to the Prince.
His Royal Highness at once sent for the father and desired him to leave the kingdom immediately, saying that he would furnish him with a proper sum of money for the journey, and that hearing of his return to his wife and family, he would remit a trifle for present emergencies that he might have the opportunity of looking out for employment of a more honourable nature than he had pursued in this country. If he made arrangements for his immediate departure, the Prince said he would permit him to call for the money and to take leave of his son whom he and treated so cruelly. The prince from that time took the lad entirely under his protection and treated him from first to last with the utmost kindness.”
So, that was that, George’s father had disgraced himself in royal circles with his behaviour and treatment of his son and it appears that within a week, according to the Derby Mercury 8 April 1790, matters came to a head, with George’s father being placed in a lunatic asylum:
The father of the young performer on the violin, who styles himself the African Prince, is at present a resident in a receptacle for lunatics. The Prince of Wales, with his wonted goodness has humanely taken his son under his royal protection.
Just a few weeks later George was performing alongside another violinist, an Austrian, Franz Clement and performing at Hanover Square, under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales
For the benefit of Master Bridgetower, and Master Clement on Wednesday 2 June 1790, will be performed, a concert of vocal and instrumental music. The place of the performance will be advertised in a few days.
On 26 May 1790, tickets for the concert were available from either, 9 Piccadilly where Clement resided or 20 Eaton Street, where George lived.
It becomes clear from the rates returns for Eaton Street, that George was by this time in fact residing at the home of Thomas and Mary Attwood, with George’s name later appearing in A Musical Directory for 1794, showing that he remained with the Attwood family for a number of years.
So successful was George, that the Prince Regent took even more interest in the young man and appointed tutors for him, the likes of the French violinist, François Hippolyte Barthélemon, the leader of the Royal Opera, and Thomas Attwood who became the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, composer of the Chapel Royal and musical instructor to the Duchess of York, and then the Princess of Wales, so it is clear that George, despite still being a child, was mixing at the highest level of British society.
George was certainly now gainfully employed as a musician as in February 1792 he performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, according to the Public Advertiser. Then on 28 May he featured at Mr Barthélemon’s Concert at Hanover Square and later that year The Morning Post, confirmed that he played at The London Tavern, in a benefit concert, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
Over the next few weeks we are having a slight change to the usual weekly format in so much as I’m going to take a fairly detailed look at one person in particular and tell you a little about his life story and that of his family, so please do tune in each week for the next part of the story, be warned, we’re in for a long, complicated and very bumpy ride.
George’s early years
‘Genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin’ a quote from the Chester Chronicle, 1789 used when describing a certain child protégé. Who was this child, apart from being someone who was extremely talented?
The answer appears to be someone with a very complicated and confusing ancestry, which, over the centuries no-one has actually been able to completely fathom out. Despite the advances in technological access to archival material, which has given access to more nuggets of information, the same degree of uncertainty about some parts of his life remain today, even his surname seems to confuse, it was either Bridgetower, with the ‘e’ or Bridgtower without. The majority of people who have written about George favour the former, so I’ll go with that for now.
Over the next few weeks, I shall recount some of his life story, and, for a guess, by the end of it you will remain as stumped by it as I am about his genealogy.
For those who haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you to George Augustus Polgreen/Polegreen Bridgetower who was believed to have been born on 11 October 1778 in Biala, Poland according to an article in The Musical Times of 1981, although different sources offer different dates of birth for him, but this appears to be the most likely, as it on George’s application to join the Royal Society of Musicians.
The other date offered being 13 August 1778 and that he was baptised as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus. His father being Joanis Fredericus de Augustus and his mother being Maria Ursula de Augustus (née Schmid/Schmit/Sovinki) or possibly Mary Ann.
As you can imagine trying to track down a copy of George’s birth has proved elusive, to say the least.
The only nugget of information I have come across which might make sense of that entry, was the one below possibly for possibly son, Johannes Albertus Bridgetown, not Bridgetower, in Mainz, Germany some nine years after George was born, but of course this could be a red herring and to date there is no evidence of this child surviving to adulthood and his name is never mentioned in any biography about George.
The surname used by the family is unusual, which perhaps does indicate that Johannes was one of their children, but whether this child survived into adulthood, who knows. Hopefully one day it will be possible to see George’s baptism, just to set the record straight once and for all.
Just to confuse matters further, George’s father seems to have been referred to as either John Frederick Bridgetower or Friedrich de Bridgetower and worked in the household as a servant of Prince Nikolai Esterházy, where he gave several different stories about his origins (a favourite being that he was an African prince), but again there is no conclusive evidence.
The castle of Prince Nikolai contained an opera house and a puppet theatre where the composer Haydn was the Kapellmeister (musical director). If George had been spotted as a child prodigy, Haydn would have been the perfect person to help him develop his talent.
Sometime before 1789 the family left the court of Prince Nikolai and, according to The World newspaper of 2 January 1789, George made his performing debut as a violinist:
A young negro, named George Frederick Augustus Brigdetower, has made his entrée into the world as a musician. He played at a public concert on the 2d instant at Cleves, with very great applause, and promised to be one of the first players in Europe. His natural genius was first cultivated by the celebrated Hayden, and afterwards by the Sieur Schick He speaks many languages and appears distinguishingly from others of his cast and colour.
In April of that year in Paris, according to an article on the British Museum website, by Dr Mike Phillips,
The journal Le Mercure de France raved about his performance, concluding that “his talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and his colour of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts”.
George was obviously an exceptionally gifted young musician and his father, a great public relations machine for his son, trying to get his talent showcased at all the best venues – Paris, London and Bath, places that would have been popular with the elite.
In a plan to drum up interest in George, his father was telling all the right people that his son was the ‘son of the African Prince’ and, to ensure that the message got across loud and clear, he would wear exotic costumes and parade through the streets. His father was certainly no shrinking violet.
This report was noted in many of the regional newspapers of the day, from the Kentish Gazette, to Saunders Newsletter in Dublin to the Stamford Mercury. It appears that the whole country was taking an interest in this very talented young man and the Whitehall Evening Post decided to share a little background to the family.
The African Prince now at Brighthelmstone has a son of ten years old, possessed of amazing talents.
This extraordinary genius has been presented to the Prince of Wales, who intends to recommend him to the professional concert, as an acceptable novelty to the admirers and lovers of music. He plays with exquisite Mastership on the violin.
The grandfather of this extraordinary youth was committed to the care of a Dutch captain with diamonds to a great amount, and gold dust to be carried to Europe and educated.
After experiencing much barbarous treatment from the avaricious Hollander, the unfortunate prince was sold, as a slave, to a Jamaican planter.
The unhappy man met, however with a kind master to alleviate his misfortunes, and married an African woman, by whom he had the father of this boy.
At the grandfather’s demise, the father was still high in his master’s favour, at whose expense he was instructed in several languages. At the age of fifteen, he was permitted to make a voyage to Africa, with proper testimonials of his birth; but by a singular fatality was shipwrecked and lost his documents. Being conversant in several languages, he gained a subsistence by acting as interpreter to various foreign Potentates in Europe.
By 14 August 1789, it was the Chester Chronicle who were writing about George in the most glowing terms
The musical world is likely to be enriched by the greatest phenomenon ever heard – a youth of ten years old, pupil of the immortal Haydn – he performs the most difficult pieces on the violin, and goes through all the mazes of sound with wonderful spirit, execution and delicacy. His name is Bridgetower a sable plant of an African growth: Thus, do we find that genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin. He is now at Brighthelmstone, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
So, it would appear that young George’s career was definitely on the up and had come to the attention of the royal family as noted in The Morning Star, 3 October 1789 –
On Friday evening the son of the African Prince performed on the violin with exquisite skill, before their majesties and the princesses at Windsor Lodge. This musical phenomenon gave inexpressible delight to his royal auditory. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales was his recommendatory introducer to the access of his royal parents.