The Philanthropic Cat, 1823

We thought our readers might enjoy the two following letters sent in to the newspapers in 1823, on the subject of philanthropic cats.

Gabrielle Arnault as a child, by Louis-Léopold Boilly, 1815
Gabrielle Arnault as a child, by Louis-Léopold Boilly, 1815

A POLITE SCOTCH CAT.

A Country Gentleman, who is neither a friend to thieves nor poachers, has at this moment in his household a favourite cat, whose honesty he is sorry to say, there is but too much reason to call in question. The animal, however, if far from being selfish in her principles, for her acceptable gleanings she regularly shares among the children of the family in which her lot is cast. It is the habit and repute of this said Grimalkin to leave the kitchen or parlour as often as hunger and an opportunity may occur, and went her way to a certain pastry cook’s shop, where the better to conceal her purpose, she endeavours slyly to ingratiate herself into favour with the mistress of the house. As soon as the Landlady’s attention becomes engrossed in business or otherwise, puss contrives to pilfer a small pye or tart, &c. from the shelves on which they are placed, speedily afterwards making the best of her way home with her booty. She then carefully delivers her prize to some of the little ones in the nursery. A division of the stolen property quickly takes place, and here it is singularly amusing to observe the sleekit animal, not the least conspicuous among the juvenile group, thankfully mumping her share of the illegal traffic. We may add, that the pastry-cook is by no means disposed to institute a legal process against poor Mistress Gib, as the children of the Gentleman to whom we allude, are honest enough, to acknowledge their four-footed playmate’s failings to papa, who willingly compensates any damage the shopkeeper may sustain from the petty depredations of his would-be philanthropic cat. – (Edinburgh Observer.)

The Morning Post, 12th August 1823.

Harris Museum & Art Gallery via www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings
Harris Museum & Art Gallery via http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings

FELINE RESTITUTION.

EDITOR – After reading the interesting little anecdote in your Paper of the Philanthropic Cat, I am encouraged to lay before your Readers another trait of one of its kindred species. In the summer of 1817, I hired a small villa in the neighbourhood of Sevenoaks, which, when I entered, I found not wholly untenanted, for I soon observed a find large yellow streaked Tom Cat, which I admired much, but my wife having an antipathy to cats, I was compelled to order that the hapless animal should be forbid the premises. This the servants attempted to put into execution, but in vain, for in despite of sticks, stones, tin kettles, and other offensive weapons, Puss always returned when the storm had abated, till at length we relented, and the exile was re-established in its office of slaying rats and mice. A month after this, the cook, when about to put a fine fowl on the spit, was called away, d when she returned the fowl was gone. Search was made, and in five minutes the fowl was discovered in the merciless claws of the Cat. The enraged cook darted the spit which she held in her hand at the wretched animal; but anger blinded her aim – it missed, but in a moment Puss was well belaboured with broomsticks, from which at length he contrived to escape. For two days was he missing, but on the third, as the cook was busied in culinary avocations, she head a gentle purr behind her, and looking round, she saw the fine fellow with a plump young pheasant in his mouth, which he gently laid at her feet. Need I add, the pheasant was plucked, pulled, roasted; so it was, and the very best I ever tasted in my life. An anecdote, somewhat similar, may be found in the rare Tract of PERSIA LEFORDE, printed at the Hague in 1589, entitled “Histoyre des Animeaulx Domestiques.” I am sorry to say, Puss took to poaching, and was killed the year after, by the double-barrel gun of one of Lord STANHOPE’S Keepers.

Yours, PHILOGALEUS.

The Morning Post, 13th August 1823

The Country Wedding by John Lewis Krimmel, 1820 (you may have to look closely for the cat!)
The Country Wedding by John Lewis Krimmel, 1820 (you may have to look closely for the cat!)
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Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent

FASHIONABLE ANECDOTE, at present only whispered in the POLITE CIRCLES.

Some years ago, the Lady of a noble Lord, who once held a high military post, and greatly distinguished himself in a former war, received a small basket by an unknown hand, which, on being opened, was found to contain a female child, with a letter addressed to the lady, written in a female hand, expressing the high opinion the writer entertained of her Ladyship’s liberality, and particularly from personal knowledge of her humanity. Appealing to it, for protection of the unknown infant, whose existence, with that of the mother’s, depended on her Ladyship.  A bank-note was inclosed for a considerable amount. The child was ordered to be taken all possible care of, and has been from that time attended and educated in no other manner than if she had been the daughter of the noble Lord and his Lady.

The young lady has been introduced at court, and is highly esteemed by all whom she is known to, and possesses, in the highest degree, the affections of her friends and protectress: she is now about eighteen years of age, and till within a few days, the history of her birth and parents were unknown to all but the parents themselves, and a confidential servant.

It however now appears, her father is a peer of Ireland, her mother the sister to a peer; they managed their tendresse with so much dexterity, that the circumstance of this beautiful gage de l’amour would ever have remained unknown; but the noble Lord her father, who was soon after married to another lady, and that lady being dead, his Lordship, perhaps, feeling remorse for his former unkind treatment of this young lady, who has remained unmarried; which event is about to take place. The have claimed their daughter from Lady ______, to whom the whole circumstance has been related, and whom, we hear, is nearly inconsolable for the loss she is about to sustain, in parting from her amiable and charming favourite.

[We insert this article with the greater confidence, as the first part of this story is a fact well known to have happened to Lady Am___st.]


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Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Amherst (1740-1830) (nee Elizabeth Cary) by Joshua Reynolds via Wikimedia

Lady Amherst, or Baroness Amherst of Holmesdale, formerly Miss Elizabeth Cary, was the second wife of Jeffrey Amherst, Baron Amherst, who was, at the time this article was written, Captain and Colonel of The Queen’s Troop of Horse Guards. She was born around 1740 to Lt-General the Honourable George Cary (son of the 6th Viscount Falkland) and his wife Isabella (nee Ingram).

The little foundling was given the name Fanny Williams and, as the Amherst’s had no children of their own, was brought up by them and treated in every way as their own daughter.  Fanny Burney recounted meeting the girl in 1791:

I was pleased in seeing Miss Fanny Williams, as she is called, the young person who was left an infant at the door of Lady Amherst, and who is reputed to be the daughter of every woman of rank whose character, at that date, was susceptible of suspicion. She looks a modest and pretty young creature, and Lady Amherst brings her up with great kindness and propriety.

NPG 150,Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,by Thomas Gainsborough
Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst by Thomas Gainsborough
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Jeffrey Amherst, a ruthless and cruel man, was behind the attempt to introduce smallpox amongst the native Indians in America with infected blankets during the Anglo-Indian war.

In two sources Jeffrey Amherst is noted as having a natural son, the ODNB saying he was given the same name as his father and rose to become a Major General in the army, born around 1752 and dying in 1815. Jane Dalison had married Baron Amherst in 1753 (a year or so after the birth of his illegitimate son) but reportedly went insane whilst her husband travelled overseas with the army. She died in 1765 and two years later he married Elizabeth Cary.

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William Amherst (1732-1791)

Young Jeffrey was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Thomas. There is, however, another Amherst floating around, William Kerrill Amherst, whose unusual second name ties him in to the same family as Jeffrey Amherst but for whom no parentage is given.

Kerrill was the maiden name of Jeffrey Amherst’s mother, Elizabeth, and, by her husband who was yet another Jeffrey, she had four surviving sons:

Sackville Amherst (1715-1763) – a lawyer who ran up debts and caused his relatives much consternation by his scandalous behaviour

Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797)

John Amherst (1718-1778) – Vice Admiral of the White

William Amherst (1732-1791)

William Kerrill Amherst (c.1761-1792) was sent out to Bengal in India as a writer for the East India Company in 1778. As if his middle name wasn’t clue enough to his ancestry, he wrote to the artist Ozias Humphry in 1785, when the latter arrived in India, saying he was anxious that they should correspond as they shared acquaintances in Sevenoaks, Kent (where Jeffrey Amherst had his estate, Montreal) and a love of the area. Certainly he was the son of one of the four brothers.

Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving
Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving

John and Sackville died without any legitimate heirs; William married Elizabeth Paterson and had three children, Elizabeth Frances, Harriet and William Pitt Amherst.  When both William and Elizabeth died young their children were taken into the household of Baron Amherst and brought up with young Fanny Williams, William Pitt Amherst becoming the heir to his uncle and the baronetcy.

Elizabeth Frances thought of Fanny as her sister, and indeed she may well have been.  It was known that the forename of the father could be bestowed on the child as a surname, in a similar way to that which Charlotte Williams, a subject of one of our former blogs, took the forename of her father William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, as her surname. Was Fanny then the natural daughter of William Amherst, brought up by her aunt Lady Amherst in much the same way that Baron Amherst’s natural son had been brought up by his own aunt, Elizabeth Thomas?

William Kerrill Amherst died on the 20th April, 1792, in India.

When Lord Amherst wrote his will in 1794 he did not omit to mention Fanny and left her a sizeable legacy; he provided for her by a thousand pounds in stock and asked his wife to supply proper mourning for her on his decease. No son, illegitimate or otherwise, was named in his will. He died three years later.

On the 23rd May, 1799, Fanny married Charles Pinfold, Esquire, at St. Marylebone Church, by licence, only to sadly die in childbirth just over a year and a half later (her son, Charles, did survive).

 

Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 19th May 1786

The rising country: the Hale-Amherst correspondence, 1799-1825, Champlain Society, 2002

Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett, vol. iii – 1788 to 1796

Royal Academy of Arts Collection, Letters of William K Amherst to Ozias Humphry

Header image: Montreal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, the seat of Lord Amherst of Holmsdale, McCord Museum