Tag Archives: London

Great Fires of London and the West India Docks

The River Thames and the new West India Docks

From Ordnance Survey First Series 1805

Jamaican sugar planters sometimes struggled to get their produce back to England. Freight rates were often high, ships sometimes in short supply and of course they could be lost at sea. Along with a developing banking industry, the eighteenth century saw the growth of insurance, and new companies sprang up that would insure a cargo against loss. If you have London ancestors you may find them in the Sun Fire Office records, which are held at the Guildhall in London, and indexed on the National Archives online.

Fire was, and is, an ever present risk and it was especially so for warehouses storing Jamaica’s main exports of sugar and rum which are both highly flammable.

I remember stories in my childhood of how the bombing of the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery at Greenock in the second World War caused a fire that could be seen from many miles away. Two decades later a fire in a bonded whisky warehouse in Glasgow remains Britain’s worst peacetime fire services disaster. Wooden barrels stored on wooden racks in an old building with a high wood content burned furiously, and the vapourising alcohol caused an explosion that blew out the sides of the building and cast debris and barrels of flaming liquid onto the firefighters below. Both sugar and alcohol explode at high temperatures, scattering fiery material to start further fires.

Such was the nature of two disastrous London fires in the eighteenth century. You may remember I wrote a while ago about Captain Stephen Blanket who sailed supply ships to Jamaica and ended his life with a comfortable fortune as a merchant, living in Princes Street Rotherhithe, which ran at right angles to the river Thames. There, shortly after his death, a kettle of molten pitch, used for caulking ships and other waterproofing jobs, boiled over and caught fire. The fire spread and destroyed over 200 buildings along the river front at Rotherhithe. The buildings would almost all have been built of wood, many old and dilapidated and many containing flammable materials arriving from abroad or waiting to be despatched. Such fires could be difficult to put out and were sometimes long lasting – after the Great Fire of London in 1666 materials smouldered in cellars for many months afterwards, bursting into flame again when air reached them.

An even more disastrous fire happened at the end of the eighteenth century on the opposite side of the river at Ratcliff. In July 1794 another pitch kettle fire, at Cloves barge builder’s yard, ignited a cargo of saltpetre, an ingredient of gunpowder, in a riverside barge. This sent exploding fragments high in the air over a wide area and before it was finally put out the fire had destroyed 453 private houses, more than 20 warehouses and other large buildings and several ships on the river. The buildings destroyed included offices of the East India Company. Although largely forgotten now, it was London’s worst fire between the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz.

Add these risks to the constant threat to merchants’ profits from the pilfering of their cargoes as they were unloaded on to smaller boats in the overcrowded river Thames and rowed ashore to be manually handled into storage, and you can understand the pressure for a new solution to London’s booming international trade.

The need for new docks had been mooted for some time and in the end a large number were built on both sides of the river, but the most brilliant of these were the West India Docks which utilised a bend in the river at the Isle of Dogs to create an industrialised cargo handling system on a scale that had not been seen before. Ships coming up river entered the docks from Blackwall Reach, unloaded their cargoes directly into huge brick built warehouses and then left via Limehouse Reach having loaded a new cargo. The whole site was secured by a continuous high brick wall.

This view of the proposed West India Docks and City Canal is by W. Daniell and was painted in 1802 when construction had already begun. It looks west towards the City of London. In fact the final layout of the docks was rather different, with three broad docks rather than two docks and a canal, and it was further modified later in the nineteenth century to make use of the new railway technology and steam powered cranes.

A survey sponsored by English heritage and published in 1994, when the docks had reached the end of their useful life, can be viewed on British History online and it shows the vast scale of the eventual project.

One spin-off of the West India Dock Company was the founding of the Imperial Insurance Company, ever mindful of the risk of fire.

Little now remains of this huge and wonderful feat of civil engineering and mercantile ambition – replaced by London’s Docklands offices and tower blocks, the symbol of a different age of ambition. Its history is preserved in the Docklands Museum, housed in these few remaining buildings.

Augier or Hosier – name transformations

 

 

When I was transcribing the 1754 census of Spanish Town I came across three people listed as “free Mulattoes or Descendants from them admitted to the privileges of white people by Acts of the Legislature”.  Two of them I knew already – Mary Johnston Rose and her son Thomas Wynter who each lived in the house that they owned. Then there was Susanna Hosier who was recorded as a sugar planter and who owned a house worth £60 that was un-tenanted.  I was surprised that I did not know who she was and could not find any reference to her, since as a mixed race woman she seemed to be unusually wealthy.

Sometime later I was working on the family of Susanna Augier and realised that the name was sometimes written as Augier and sometimes as Hosier.  Once you pronounce Augier as ‘O-gee-er’ with a soft G you realise how it could come to be written as Hosier.  It was also occasionally mis-transcribed as Augire, Angier and Augine.   I often use dictation software when transcribing Wills and writing these blog pieces, and the software delivers ‘osier’ for ‘Augier’ !  It is the kind of name transformation that makes the work of the genealogist both frustrating and fascinating.

Having resolved the name puzzle I was able to build the story of Susanna Augier and her extended family.  She was a quite exceptional woman and well known to the Jamaican Plantocracy. Her case was used to support the argument in the construction of the 1761 act preventing “Devizes to Negroes”, limiting the inheritance of black, mixed race, and illegitimate Jamaicans to £2000. The size of her inheritance seems to have been exceptional, but it provided useful ammunition for those wanting to restrict the size of legacies.

Susanna was the daughter of John Augier, a planter who died in 1722.  He seems to have had little connection to his origins and a fondness and care for his Jamaican family.  Under his Will he freed his daughters Susanna, Mary, Jenny, Frances and Jane.  Subsequent references to his family show that there was a further daughter called Elizabeth and a son called Jacob, and probably a daughter Sarah who died young.  Susanna, who was probably born about 1707, seems to have been particularly favoured and in due course became the mother of four children with a planter called Peter Caillard or Calliard.  Mary, Peter, Frances and Susanna Caillard were born between 1725 and 1728. [But see Postscript below].

Peter Caillard died about 1728 leaving Susanna hugely wealthy. In addition to her inheritance from her father she now had a life interest in several properties in Kingston and Spanish Town and an estate including a Penn in St Catherine and a Mountain at Way Water, all valued for probate at £26,150 8s 1d, and entailed for her children Mary and Peter.  By 1753 Susanna owned 950 acres of mainly good land in the parish of St Andrew (including 40 acres under coffee, 100 acres of provision ground and 800 acres of woodland) with eighty negroes, one white servant and forty-two head of cattle. Like many other free mixed race Jamaicans Susanna owned slaves – for example John Augier ‘a negro man belonging to Susanna Augier’ was baptised in Kingston on the 4th of March 1740. Few women in eighteenth century Jamaica owned estates (most who did were planters widows), fewer still managed them themselves as Susanna appears to have done.

Peter and Susanna Caillard both died young, but in 1738 Susanna applied for the rights of whites for herself and her children Mary and Frances Caillard. A Private Act of the Jamaica Assembly dated 19th of July 1738 granted them the legal status of whites.

Mary Caillard travelled to England, perhaps to meet her father’s family in Bristol, and on the 19th of April 1748 at Henbury, Gloucestershire she married Gilbert Ford who would in due course become Jamaican Attorney General.  It was an unusual marriage for a mixed race Jamaican, even more so for a young English Lawyer.  Ford came from a well-to-do family – his brother James became Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte, Physician Extraordinary to the Westminster Lying-in hospital, and Consulting Man-Midwife to the Westminster General dispensary.  Sadly there were no children of the marriage and Mary died in May 1754 at Clifton, Bristol[1].  It seems to have been after her death that Gilbert Ford went to Jamaica where he married for a second time to Elizabeth Aikenhead.

Within about a year of Caillard’s death Susanna was living with Gibson Dalzell  with whom she had two further children, Frances and Robert, and on his death in about 1755 she inherited a life interest in his estate worth £6854 1s 3d.  Dalzell made full provision for Frances and Robert who by then were living with him in London.

Robert Dalzell was sent to his father’s college, Christ Church Oxford in 1761. In 1762 aged just twenty he married Miss Jane Dodd, ‘an agreeable young lady of large fortune, and with every other accomplishment necessary to adorn the marriage state.’ [2]  There were three children of his marriage who lived into the nineteenth century and had descendants, owning the manors of Tidworth and Mackney in Berkshire.

Frances Dalzell married the Honourable George Duff, son of the first Earl of Fife, on the 7th of April 1757 and moved into the ranks of the aristocracy.  Tragically her first child was  ‘a lunatic from birth’[3] perhaps severely mentally handicapped, or born with Down’s syndrome.  Her son George and her two daughters died unmarried.

Susanna herself died in February 1757 and was buried on the 12th in Kingston.

 

All of this would be remarkable enough until you take into account the rest of Susanna Augier’s siblings.  In 1747 two Private Acts of the Jamaican Assembly were passed.  The first gave the rights of whites to Jane Augier and her children Edward James, Thomas, Peter and Dorothy.  The second on behalf of Mary Augier gave ‘the same rights and privileges with English Subjects, born of white parents’ to Mary’s children William, Elizabeth, Jane and Eleanor; to her brother and sister Jacob and Elizabeth and to Elizabeth’s son John.  Even this does not tell the whole story.

Of John Augier’s daughters it must be assumed that Jenny and Frances had probably died before 1747 and so were not included in the family’s bid to acquire full white status.  Jenny had a daughter called Sharlott, born in 1729 and dead just under two years later, whose father was the choleric Theophilus Blechynden.

Around the time of his daughter Sharlott’s death he married Florence Fulton the widow of Dean Poyntz who had left his wife an annuity of £200 a year.  Poyntz was in partnership with Mathias Philp and years later Blechynden and his wife sued the estate of Philp’s other partner William Perrin for £10,000 of back payments of her annuity.  The case dragged on for years and was only finally settled by Blechynden’s son when almost all the other parties were dead!

A not untypical example of Jamaican litigation.

Frances Augier had two sons William and John Muir, and a daughter Hannah Spencer born in 1736. Frances probably died in Kingston in February  1738.  Elizabeth whose son John was granted the rights of whites in 1747 had also had a daughter called Elizabeth who died at the age of four, both were the children of Richard Asheton.  Elizabeth was buried in Kingston on the 16th of January 1749/50. Jacob Augier also died in Kingston and was buried on the 18th of September 1751, I have found no record that he had any children.

Mary and Jane Augier both had large families.  Jane had six children with John DeCumming, of whom two died before she could apply for their rights.  It is the children of Mary who have descendants that we know the most about.  Mary had at least seven children with William Tyndall a Kingston merchant, and her daughter Elizabeth (born in 1726) had nine children with the wealthy Kingston merchant John Morse.  Morse also had a daughter called Frances, probably born before he began his relationship with Elizabeth, who was brought up by his sister Sarah Vanheelen in Holland, and who died, unmarried, in London about 1818.  Several of his children died before their father, but his three youngest daughters all married and had descendants.

John Morse had returned to London before his death – he was buried at St Mary Aldermanbury on the 2nd of April 1781. His family may have travelled with him, or may already have been educated in England. Catherine Morse married a young lawyer called Edmund Green at St Mary Aldermanbury in 1777 – the witnesses at the wedding included her uncle by marriage Joseph Royall.

Catherine had eight children, among whom her daughter Frances Ann married William Farington from the Isle of Wight who became an Admiral in the Royal Navy.  Edmund’s training as a lawyer was called into play during a lengthy Chancery suit[4] on behalf of John Morse’s children against the Morse family who were unhappy at the legacies left to his mixed race illegitimate offspring.  In this he may have had help from Robert Cooper Lee who had himself secured his children’s future via a Private Act of the Assembly passed in 1776. Frances Lee, his daughter, left legacies to her friend Catherine Green and her daughter Frances Ann Farington.

As the boom days of Jamaica were coming to an end so the focus of empire switched to India. Catherine’s sisters Ann Frances and Sarah went to India with their brother Robert and both married there in 1780. Ann Frances married Nathaniel Middleton and had ten children born variously in India and England. The Morse/Middleton fortune passed down the generations and  in 1898, at the death of Hastings Nathaniel Middleton, was worth £84,100 15s 7d.

Sarah married William Cator in Calcutta and their daughter Ann Frances became the wife of Colonel Edward Baynes who as Adjutant General to the British forces in North America was sent to negotiate the armistice with the US government in July 1812. After service in North America they settled happily to retirement in Devon, their investments managed by Robert Cooper Lee’s son Richard. Their son William Craig Baynes migrated to Canada taking charge of the extensive estates acquired while his father was serving in Quebec.

Edmund Green eventually won the Chancery case on behalf of his wife and her siblings.

By the early nineteenth century the descendants of the Augier sisters had blended seamlessly into the highest levels of British society, their Jamaican slave roots conveniently air-brushed from history.

————————————-

POSTSCRIPT : 2nd August 2012

I have been looking again at the children of Susanna Augier and I think a confusion has arisen over her children with Peter Caillard. I now think that her children with Peter Caillard were Mary, Peter and Susanna and that there is only one child called Frances – the daughter of Gibson Dalzell.

 

 

 



[1] I have a reader of this website to thank for this information. “Last week died at Clifton near Bristol, after a lingering illness, the Lady of Gilbert Ford of the Middle-Temple, Esq.” London Evening Post (London, England), May 7, 1754 – May 9, 1754

[2] ‘Parishes: Tidmarsh’, A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 3 (1923), pp. 433-437. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk

[4] For more detail on the Morse sisters and the Chancery case see D.A.Livesay, Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 2010 – available on-line at http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/77875

 

 

The Story of a Mourning Brooch

 

One of the delights of running a website like this is when a reader gets in touch to provide further information relating to something they have read here.

When I wrote about Marchant Tubb and his wife Ann in one of my earliest pieces I was not then certain who his wife was. I did know that she had previously been married to Stephen Morant and had a daughter called Mary Powell Morant.

The reader who contacted me collects mourning brooches such as this lovely Georgian example made for Mary Powell Royall to commemorate her mother, and where possible researches the person commemorated. By a piece of clever detective work, decoding the coat of arms on the tomb that Marchant Tubb had erected for his wife, my informant was able to show that Stephen Morant’s wife Ann was called Ann Anderson and that they were married in Jamaica on the 4th of June 1737.

Ann Morant gave birth to two children, Stephen and Mary Powell Morant, before her husband died on 30 October 1742. Mary Powell Morant was baptised when she was eight months old, her baptism being recorded in the register for St Thomas in the East “Christen’d at Wheelersfield in Plantain Garden River a female child of Stephen Morant and Ann his wife aged 8 months 2 days and named Mary Powell whose Godfathers are Messrs Thomas Wheeler and Richard Swarton ye first of ’em being represented by Mr Gibbons Hodgins and Godmothers Mrs Mary Crames and Mrs Elizabeth Swarton, ye first of ’em being represented by Mrs Mary Cussans the father and mother being present.”

On the 14th of February 1745 Ann Morant remarried to Samuel Wheeler who in turn died about 1755. Some time after this she married her third husband, the surgeon Marchant Tubb, but sadly neither I nor my informant have been able to track down a record of this marriage which I am sure took place in Jamaica. By 1768 Marchant and Ann Tubb were in England together with their daughter Mary Powell Morant.

Mary Powell Morant was a considerable heiress and when after her mother’s death she decided to marry Joseph Royall in 1782, her stepfather took great care to ensure that the marriage settlement protected her rights, for as a femme couverte she might have lost control of it all to her husband. It provided further considerable work for the lawyers when, within a very short space of time, she left her husband and returned to live with Marchant Tubb. Temperamentally it seems the couple were completely unsuited, at least according to Mary ‘s very close friend Frances Lee who wrote to her brother “And what do you think is come to pass? Mr and Mrs Royall are separated by mutual Consent. They each complain of the violence of the others Disposition. Mrs R. is returned to her father whom she no longer calls Tubby. The marriage was concluded in such haste that I am not the least surprised at the separation – I pity neither.”

When Marchant Tubb died Mary inherited the share of the Wheelersfield estate that had come to him via his marriage, and on her death in 1816 she in turn left it to Frances Lee. There is no specific mention in Mary’s will of items of jewellery or the mourning brooch, although she did leave all her clothes to Elizabeth Pack (formerly Elizabeth Harrison) the black servant who had come to England with the Lee family in 1771.

There is one further little mystery that my informant found as a result of the researches into the mourning brooch. On 22 June 1739 a child called James Morant was baptised at Wheelersfield in St Thomas in the East said to be aged one year ten months and eight days old, the son of Stephen Morant and Ann Gowing. Stephen Morant was present at the baptism but Ann Gowing was not, and his godmother was Mrs Ann Morant. The infant James Morant appears to have been born about two and a half months after the marriage of his father to Ann Anderson.

Exactly one month later the adjacent record in the parish register shows the marriage of Ann Gowing to James Frazier a bricklayer. The marriage was by special licence rather than by banns which means that someone was able to put up the money for the licence and it took place in the house of Mr Roger Wood with Mr Richard Jephcott a millwright standing in place of the bride’s father.

Illegitimate children were of course very common in Jamaica, and in this case it would appear that Stephen Morant’s new wife was entirely happy to stand godmother for his illegitimate child, and that provision was being made for his mother. There is no mention in the parish register (which does generally record colour) of Ann Gowing’s colour or status, and therefore it seems possible that she was a poor white girl, perhaps a servant, rather than a slave or “housekeeper” to Stephen Morant.

Whatever the actions of Mary Powell Morant’s father, the brooch she had made to commemorate her mother and the tomb created by her stepfather for his wife are tributes to someone who was clearly very much loved during her lifetime.

Mixed Race Jamaicans in England

The status of  mixed race Jamaicans in eighteenth century Jamaica was always going to be less than than of white colonists, but it was possible for them to become established and successful in England. A case in point are two of the children of Scudamore Winde.

Ambrose Scudamore Winde (he seems to have dropped the Ambrose early on) was born about 1732 at Kentchurch in Herefordshire, son of John Winde and Mary Scudamore.  The beautiful Kentchurch Court is still in the hands of the Scudamore family as it has been for the last thousand years or so. In 1759, following the suicide of his father, he and his brother Robert went to Jamaica where Scudamore Winde became an extremely successful merchant.  He was also Assistant Judge of the Supreme Court of the Judicature and a member of the Assembly.

Like many white colonists of the island he had relationships with several women but did not marry.  When he died in late September 1775 he left generous legacies to his various children. His business had prospered and a large part of his assets were in the form of debts owed to him. According to Trevor Burnard[1] he had  personal assets of £94,273, of which £82,233 were in the form of debts. This would be equivalent to about £9.3 million relative to current retail prices or £135 million in relation to average wages today.

Scudamore Winde freed his negro slave Patty who was baptised as Patty Winde in 1778 at Kingston when her age was given as about 50.  Patty and her daughter Mary were left land that he had bought from Richard Ormonde in Saint Catherine’s with the buildings on it, and £100 Jamaican currency together with two slaves called Suki and little Polly.  It is not clear whether Mary was Scudamore Winde’s daughter for although her name is given as Mary Winde she is referred to as a negro rather than mulatto.

Scudamore Winde had a mulatto son called Robert, possibly the son of Patty, who was born about 1759, and three children with Sarah Cox herself a free negro or mulatto (records vary).  Her children were Penelope, John and Thomas born between 1768 and 1774.  John may have died young and Thomas elected to remain in Jamaica where he had a successful career as a merchant in Kingston.  Robert and Penelope travelled to England under the eye of Robert Cooper Lee who was trustee and executor of his close friend Scudamore Winde’s Will.

Robert went into business in London as a merchant, listed in various directories from 1784 and for some of the time in partnership.  The firm of Koithan & Winde traded out of 20 St Martin’s Lane London in the 1780s, and there are records of Robert Winde ‘gentleman’ at 48 Jermyn Street in the 1790s when his wife Jane is listed as a haberdasher taking out fire insurance with the Sun Insurance company.

Robert married Jane Bateman at Holy Trinity Clapham in 1781 and they had at least six children. Four were living in 1794 when Robert Cooper Lee left legacies to ‘the two sons and two daughters of Robert Winde’, but only Jane Anne seems to have lived to adulthood.  She married late in life to a widowed solicitor called Henry Pinniger of Westbury in Wiltshire, who had seven children by his first wife.  The implication is that Jane Anne Winde had inherited sufficient income of her own to live comfortably as a spinster until then.

Robert Winde’s partner Frederick Koithan was born at Bremen in Germany and applied for naturalisation in England in 1791 by Private Act of Parliament.  He died in 1809 but the partnership seems to have ended before this with Robert Winde then trading on his own.  I have not found a burial for Robert Winde, but his wife Jane was recorded as living in Downing Street Westminster at her death in 1822.

Robert’s half sister Penelope married a young lawyer called David Steel on 1 May 1786 at St Martin Orgar and St Clement Eastcheap.  Robert Cooper Lee was a witness at the wedding.  Penelope was a considerable heiress. She had been left  £2000 in the first part of her father’s Will with a further £2000 on the death of her brother John plus another £1500 in a codicil.

This is particularly interesting since under the 1761 Act of the Assembly illegitimate mixed race Jamaicans were debarred from inheriting more than £2000 and I have not found any private Act permitting the Winde children to have more. I can only guess that since Robert Cooper Lee was administering the trust from England he had liquidated the Jamaican assets so the trust fund was based in England and therefore exempt.

Although David Steel began married life as a barrister, on the death of his father he took over his business as a nautical publisher and bookseller.  When he died in 1803, aged only 39, the Gentleman’s Magazine recorded

David Steel Esq. of Little Tower Hill. He was universally respected by those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and has left a widow and a large family to lament the irreparable loss of an affectionate husband and fond father in the prime of life. Mr. S. was orginally employed in the Navy Office, but quitted his situation to the study of law and practiced for several years with the profession of a barrister; he quitted the profession on his father’s death and succeeded him in his business as a book, map and chart seller. The literary world are under great obligation to him for the active part which he took as one of the committee for obtaining the repeal of the duty on paper[2].

 

He had been publisher of the Navy List and of “The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship and Naval Tactics” which is still available as a digital reprint.

Penelope found herself a widow with five small children and remarried to William Mason in 1806.  It seems likely that her eldest son David Lee Steel did not get on with his stepfather, and when he died at the age of 31 of “a rapid decline “(probably tuberculosis) his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine hinted at a family row over his inheritance.

 Gentleman’s Magazine  Vol.88 Part 1 Jan-June 1818, p.572

 

His younger brother Scudamore Winde Steel was made of sterner stuff and had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Army ending up as a Lieutenant General and with a knighthood. Their sister Penelope Sarah became a schoolmistress at the National School, Batson Street, Limehouse and lived to the age of 84.

Lt.-Gen. Sir Scudamore Winde Steel

Anne Steel followed in her father’s footsteps marrying twice into the printing and publishing trade. Some of her descendants live today in the USA but her nephews and nieces had all died without children by the early twentieth century.

Her nephew Charles, son of Sir Scudamore Winde Steel, married the sister of Kitty O’Shea – but that as they say is another story.

 

 



[1] Kingston Merchants and the Atlantic Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century, Trevor Burnard, BGEAH, Stirling, 3 September 2009

[2]    Gentleman’s magazine Vol. 73 (1803), p 93.

 

Robert Kelly – Master at Arms

The taking of the Princessa a Spanish Man of War, April 8, 1740, by his Majesties Ships the Lenox, Kent and Oxford

By Peter Monamy (Collections of the National Maritime Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

In 1758 Robert Kelly, a Jamaican in the Royal Navy, endured an adventure that included capture by the French, imprisonment, escape and resulted in him fetching up in London penniless and alone.

Robert was the son of Ann Rose, sister of Mary Johnston Rose, mentioned here before. His uncle was Denis Kelly of Jamaica and Lisduff in Ireland, and his father was therefore one of Denis Kelly’s brothers – Edmund, Darcy, Charles or John, all of whom lived in Jamaica between about 1710 and 1740. Sadly gaps in the parish registers mean it has not been possible to establish which one was the father of Robert nor exactly when he was born, although it is likely this was in the 1730s making John Kelly the most likely candidate for his father since the other three all died between 1728 and 1731.

By 1757 Robert was a Master at Arms on board the Oxford, a man of war in the Royal Navy when the ship was paid off at Plymouth. He was promised a place on another ship, but having heard nothing decided to make his way to London on board a merchant ship in order to contact the Admiralty directly. The condition of the roads was generally so bad that travel by sea would normally have been the quicker route.

Somewhere in the English Channel the ship was captured by a French privateer and all on board were taken to Bayonne in France where Robert was imprisoned. The ship in question may have been either The Africa or The Venice, both of which were reported in the Leeds Intelligencer of Tuesday 15th March 1757 as having been captured by Bayonne privateers.

Another report refers to Bayonne as harbouring over thirty such privateering vessels. These were privately owned vessels licenced by Letters of Marque to prey upon ships of an opposing country, and whose master and crew hoped to make their fortune taking rich prizes. As such they aimed to capture a ship rather than engage with it or sink it. Sale of the captured goods and ransom of any important prisoners added to their income.

Robert was not wealthy, nor was there anyone who would have paid a ransom for him but by a stroke of luck after eight months in prison he was able to escape and made his way across the border to Spain, having by now lost everything he had. Somehow he found himself a ship, probably working his passage, and eventually arrived back in London expecting to be able to make contact with his uncle Denis Kelly. Disaster struck again, for he discovered that his uncle had died in an accident in Ireland the previous December when an eagle had attacked the horse of the chaise he was travelling in causing it to be overturned.

Robert now found himself at the Ship Ale House in Buckingham Court, Charing Cross, with the promise of a ship from Admiral Forbes and a lodging bill he could not pay. Unless he could discharge the debt he would be prevented from taking up the warrant from Admiral Forbes and would be destitute and deprived of all means of earning a living.

We know all this because Robert then wrote to the only person he could think of who might be able to help – Rose Fuller for whom his aunt Mary Johnston Rose had been housekeeper for many years, and who he had last seen sixteen years previously.

There is no account of what happened next, but I am inclined to think that Rose Fuller did come to the rescue – for one thing the letter from Robert Kelly is among his personal papers (East Sussex Record Office ref: ESRO SAS-RF/19/167). Also there are Admiralty records for a Robert Kelly who was a gunner in the navy between 1779 and 1783, although that may of course be another Robert Kelly.

It was a great pity that Denis Kelly, erstwhile Chief Justice of Jamaica, did not live to learn of his nephew Robert’s resourcefulness which was in stark contrast to the behaviour of his brother Edmund’s legitimate son Henry Kelly (who died in January 1745 aged nineteen). Henry was packed off back to Jamaica by Thomas Beckford in December 1740, his behaviour in England having been thoroughly reprehensible.

Having put him on board the Ashted, Beckford wrote to Denis Kelly, who was then still in Jamaica:

I am very much concerned that he should have made no better use of the Education You have been at the expense of for him, and wish you may be able to turn his mind to better Principles; No advice would do him any service here, and had he stayed, I should have expected to have found him in some Gaol, for some Crime or other.  Mr Corkran, who I understood had married a Gentlewoman who was his Relation, was so good to invite him to his house, a little way from the Town, on purpose to divert him, and keep him from Ill Company, as well as to give him good advice, but he gave him the Slip, and Carried away two books which he sold.

(National Library of Ireland, Westport Papers, MS 40,910/5(5) ).

Henry Kellys’ behaviour was relatively extreme, but the lot of small children of the colonists was not always a happy one. Sent to England for the sake of their health and to obtain an education, they often lacked both love and supervision, boys in particular were often subjected to regular beatings at school. It is probably not surprising that some of them went wild.

I’d love to know what happened to Robert Kelly in the end, but as with so many of those we encounter in old letters and documents, we glimpse a moment in their lives and then they fade from view.

What’s in a name? – Searching Jamaican Parish Registers

A rose by any other name…

Old parish registers (OPR for short) are an invaluable source of genealogical information, but sadly are often only as good as the parish clerk or vicar who wrote in them. Some are written in beautiful script and contain additional information about the father’s occupation or the street in which the family lived, others are terse to the point of being almost useless without supporting information from another source.

If you have access to Ancestry, take a look at the registers for London where you can view the images of the actual pages. For example the early eighteenth century marriage records for St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London are clearly written and give the parish of both partners, but the later records in the same volume for baptisms and burials are untidy and hastily written although they do give the date of both birth and baptism, and the location of the burial.

Accuracy can be a problem and the record of the baptism of Robert Cooper Lee, whose parcel of ribbons gave this website its title, is doubly inaccurate – for the clerk of St Michael Bassishaw wrote his mother’s name as Sarah instead of Frances and his date of birth as the 4th of September when I know from a letter of his daughter Frances that it was the 15th. These problems can be much worse when dealing with the early Jamaican registers.

You can view the images of the early Jamaican parish registers on the Family Search site, which is free. These images are also available on microfilm through local LDS family history centres, although you may have to order them in for your local centre and pay the postage.

The coverage for different parishes varies a lot, with some of the earliest records in St Andrew (from 1664), St Catherine (from 1668) and Vere (from 1694) whereas Kingston only starts in 1721. Time, mould, insect attack, hurricane and fire took their toll on the records and they were sometimes copied to preserve them, not always with a hundred percent accuracy.

Until the Family Search site completes the computerised indexing of the records, you are dependent on either paging through a particular parish and time period, or using the hand compiled indexes whose images are also available. These are not in fully alphabetical order, but are organised by letter of the alphabet with blocks of records covering a period of years. If you are lucky the one you are looking at will have an annotation in the margin telling you what period it relates to, but not always. The index will give you a volume and folio reference in the form 1/23. Because the images cover two pages of the register an entry at 1/23 might be on image 12 or somewhere either side of it. Be aware that not all records are indexed, that marriages are only indexed by the name of the man and that a child’s baptism may be indexed under the mother’s name if it is illegitimate even if it later took its father’s name.

To have a good chance of finding the records you are interested in, it helps to understand family naming conventions in the eighteenth century which often followed a quite regular pattern. Where a couple were married and their children were legitimate, the eldest son was usually named after his father or one of his grandfathers, and the eldest daughter after her mother or grandmothers. It was also common for a surname to be used as a first name and the surname of a grandparent to be used as a middle name. For example Thomas Beckford married Mary Ballard in 1703 in St Catherine, Jamaica, and their eldest son was called Ballard Beckford, as was his son. The second Ballard Beckford’s daughter was named Mary Ballard Beckford.

Don’t be surprised if you find that a couple use the same name repeatedly – high infant mortality often meant that a father would make several attempts to carry on his name – if you see the same name repeated, look for a corresponding infant burial between the two baptisms. Robert Cooper Lee’s father Joseph had two attempts at a namesake before his youngest son survived.

After the eldest son and daughter, children were then named for the siblings of their parents, or after an aunt or uncle or their godparents. Sometimes they were named in honour of a family friend. Robert Cooper Lee, whose eldest son named after his brother John died young, named one son after himself; one after his friend Richard Welch; Matthew Allen Lee after his friend John Allen and Scudamore Cooper Lee after his friend Scudamore Winde. In turn John Allen named his first son John Lee Allen. Name patterns like this can often be helpful in tracing patterns of friendship especially if backed up by bequests in Wills.

In Jamaica the records are complicated by the number of illegitimate children, many born to white fathers and slave or mixed race mothers. In the early history of Jamaica slaves were not usually baptised or married in church as it was feared that if they became Christian they might acquire the rights of Christians. However from the earliest days there were free blacks and free people of mixed race – often the product of liaisons between white planters and merchants and their slaves or housekeepers. The latter were often free women of mixed race who moved between communities having some of the privileges of the white world, and as described in the article about Mary Johnston Rose, sometimes acquiring the status of being legally white.

When it came to recording the baptisms, marriages and burials of black and mixed race Jamaicans the local vicars varied in what they recorded. Some white fathers happily acknowledged their children and their names appear alongside the name of the mother in the register. However the child’s surname may be indexed as either the father’s or the mother’s.  For example in 1748 John  Lee and Mary Lord had a child baptised as Mary Ann Lord, the name she was buried under soon after.

In the case of the children of Mary Johnston Rose her sons Thomas Wynter and William Fuller took their father’s surnames and she was generally known as Mary Rose, although her mother was Elizabeth Johnston. That she used the name Mary Johnston Rose strongly suggests that she was the acknowledged daughter of a man called Rose, albeit not legitimate. In letters she is referred to as Mrs Rose, but beware of assuming that Mrs means that a woman was married – the title Mistress was used for both married and single women, and Mrs was also sometimes a courtesy title rather like Madame in French was used for an older woman.

The Jamaican registers may or may not tell you something useful about the ethnic origin of the person. The St Catherine’s register has the marriage of Emanuel Angola and Malina Angola in 1671, which only hints at African origin through their names. In 1677 Peter Moore and Black Betty were married as ‘free negroes’, but on the same page the marriage record of a mulatto and a negro does not tell us whether they were free. There was no requirement on parish priests to follow a set form in what they recorded, and as a result the records are fragmentary, inconsistent and sometimes very hard to read!

By the middle of the eighteenth century it is becoming more common to record the status of an individual, and children are baptised using all the various categories of colour discussed in an earlier posting.  Whereas a legitimate child almost always has both parents named, the illegitimate may have none – but almost always its colour is recorded. Watch out for abbreviations such as ‘Mul.’ Or simply ‘M’ for mulatto, a letter Q (which can look like a 2) for a quadroon.  Such is the segregation of people according to their colour that some of the Kingston registers actually had separate sections for Whites and People of Colour.

Civil Registration began in Jamaica on the 1st of April 1878 but some districts did not record until up to five years later. The Family Search site has over one and a half million records for Trelawny Parish Civil Registration Births, 1878-1930, and over 280,000 other indexed records from 1752-1920.

The rejoicing will be great on the part of this user when the fully indexed records are finally available online.

So good luck with your searches, and good hunting!

 

 

The Portrait of Frances Lee

 

Francis Cotes (English, 1726-1770), Portrait of Miss Frances Lee, 1769.

Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William D. Vogel M1964.5. Photo by Larry Sanders.

 

This beautiful portrait of Frances Lee was painted for her parents by the English artist Francis Cotes in 1769 and today hangs in the Milwaukee Art Museum. If she looks rather solemn perhaps it is because she had been sent away from her family to school in England and neither she nor they could know whether they would ever meet again.

Frances Lee was born in Spanish Town Jamaica on the 31st October 1758, the eldest child of Robert Cooper Lee and Priscilla Kelly, and was baptised in the St Catherine’s parish church Spanish Town on the 23rd of January 1759. The parish register entry for Frances reads:

“Frances Lee a Quadroon” and on the line below, John Venn the vicar who transcribed the registers wrote “I believe a white illegit. child “. Technically since Priscilla Kelly was a free quadroon, Frances was in fact an octoroon.

In late 1767 or early 1768, at the age of nine, Frances (known in the family as Fanny) was sent to school in England. It is not clear whether there were specific fears for her health, although she suffered health problems throughout her life and early mention is made in the family letters of a six month period away from her school in Streatham.

Then in May 1768 her uncle Joseph Lee made a trip from Jamaica to England, leaving in haste because of fears for his health. While in England he visited his niece at Mrs Endleigh’s school in Streatham. It is likely the school was recommended by the Fuller family who had a house there. At first Fanny did not recognise her uncle, perhaps because she had not seen him for so long or perhaps simply because she did not expect to see him in England.  Joseph however was able to report that she was ‘admirably improved’ and ‘in extreme good health’.

I have been at the school where every thing is in the utmost Order and Regularity…Mr Fuller and myself have been all over the School and seen the Beds and other accommodations which are all with the greatest neatness and elegance.

It was important for the family to verify that Frances was being well cared for since even expensive girls’ schools could be chill and unpleasant places. In an account of Camden House where his daughter was until her death in 1797, Arthur Young recalled that ‘The rules for health are detestable, no air but in measured formal walk, and all running and quick motion prohibited, preposterous! She slept with a girl who could only hear with one ear, and so ever laid on the one side, and my dear child could do no otherwise afterwards without pain, because the vile beds are so small they must both lie the same way…..She never had a bellyful at breakfast.  Detestable this at the expense of £80 a year’.[1]  Why he allowed his poor daughter to continue there is a mystery to me.

On his first visit to the school Joseph stayed an extra day in order to see his ‘pretty niece’ dance. While in England he spent some time on business trips, on sightseeing and on family visits out of town, but he saw Fanny in London when she was staying with friends and he reported in a letter to his brother having seen her again and said that he considered her to be ‘the Flower of the School’. Fanny had become a firm favourite with her Uncle Joe, and there were plans for a family celebration during the Christmas holidays with her Aunt Charlotte Morley, and her three Morley cousins.  Joseph confessed to Robert that he had taken the liberty of presenting Frances with a new silk dress for the winter – possibly even the one in the painting.

The portrait must already have been commissioned by the autumn of 1768 because Joseph promised his brother that he would see it finished during the Christmas holidays. In March 1769 Joseph wrote to his brother

I have had her Picture drawn by Cotes who is in great repute here and is considered as next to Reynolds in the Art and when it is completed it shall be sent to you by the first safe Opportunity – the Price will be a few Guineas beyond the sum you mentioned which I apprehend will not be disagreeable to you as it will always remain a handsome Picture even after she has outgrown the likeness.

There was a delay sending the picture ‘a very strong likeness of her’, so that it could be put into a ‘neat Italian fluted frame’ and it was not until October that year that it was finally despatched to her parents in Jamaica .  The cost was thirty Guineas ‘the usual sum for a picture of that size’, and the frame cost an additional six pounds eight shillings. You can see the shipping order that included the portrait here.

At school in Streatham, Frances received a letter written by her father in April and carried by Mr Moulton, a friend who presented her with a guinea from her mother.  A Christmas letter from Frances had reached her parents together with a purse and ‘swordknot’ (an ornamental tassel attached to the pommel of a sword) that she had made for her father.  The main news to reach her was that her young brother Robert was to sail for England. Joseph Lee remained in England long enough to meet his six year old nephew, who was sent to Harrow School in the autumn of 1769, and finally returned to Jamaica in 1770 where he died in 1772 at the age of thirty-six.

In 1771 Robert Cooper Lee brought his family back to England and like many who had made their fortune in Jamaica he never returned there. The portrait of course came with them. Frances, who suffered from health problems throughout her life, never married. She inherited substantial Jamaican interests from her father and from two friends and lived to a comfortable old age dying at her home in Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London on 7th December 1839. Her younger sister Favell married the banker David Bevan and according to Audrey Gamble (née Bevan) who wrote a history of the Bevan family[2], the family failed to buy the portrait of Frances Lee back at an auction in the early twentieth century and so it rests now, beautifully restored, in the care of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century,  Penguin, London 1966,  p.342

[2] Gamble, Audrey Nona, A History of the Bevan Family, Headley Brothers, London. 1923.

 

Mary Rose – a colonial snob


Georgian houses in Charterhouse Square London

reproduced by kind permission of the London Photo Project

 

Mary Rose is one of my Jamaican favourites, not because I can say she was a particularly good or nice person but because she was a much married survivor. She was also more than a bit of a snob.

The Rose family came from Mickelton in Gloucestershire. Mary’s father John Rose was a merchant, based in London, who traded with Jamaica and made some of his money by transporting convicts captured after the 1685 Monmouth rebellion.

9 December 1685 –
Invoice of sixty eight men servants, shipped on board, Capt
Charles Gardner, in ye Jamaica Merchant (ship) for account of
Mr.Rose and Comp.,they being to be sold for ten years.
The men whose names are contained in the within written list, as
shipt upon the account of John Rose and Company, on board the
Jamaica Merchant, to be landed and disposed of in Barbados or
Jamaica.

Born in the City of London on the 17th of May 1681, she was baptised on the 29th of  May at the church of All Hallows Barking by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London. She was the fifth of fourteen children born between 1676 and 1694. Her uncle Dr Fulke Rose had gone to Jamaica around 1670 and his brothers Thomas and Francis joined him there. So Mary already had family in Jamaica when she went there in her early teens.

On the 18th of  December 1697 aged sixteen, Mary married Thomas Hals (or Halse) in Spanish Town. Thomas was the great grandson of Sir Nicholas Halse of Cornwall, England and was heir to the Halse Hall estate in the parish of Clarendon. It was a sad fact of life in Jamaica that marriages were frequently cut short by the death of one partner, and on 24 Aug 1702 Thomas Halse died barely six months after his father, and was buried at Halse Hall. He left behind him one son, also called Thomas, and a rich widow.

Rich young widows in Jamaica did not long remain unmarried and within three months Mary had married again, this time to John Sadler whose father Charles Sadler was prominent in island politics. Mary and John had at least three children – Mary baptised in 1705, John Charles baptised in 1709 and Francis baptised in 1711.

In the early years of the eighteenth century Mary was joined in Jamaica by two of her sisters – Elizabeth who married Samuel Heming and Frances who married Dr John Charnock – he and their two young daughters died in Jamaica and Frances returned to England. Elizabeth left at least three children – Richard, Mary and Samuel – who lived to grow up. Mary also had several cousins in Jamaica, William the son of her uncle Thomas (who had died in 1679) and the family of her uncle Francis who lived until 1720.

Mary was luckier in the length of her second marriage which lasted over a quarter of a century. John Sadler, who like his father  took an active part in island politics, was a Member of the Assembly for Clarendon in 1704, 06 and 09,  St. Ann in 1707 and  St. John 1711. He was later also a Member of the island Council. Although it seems likely her children Mary and John died young, her son Francis went on to play a particularly dramatic part in island history – of which more another time.

After the death of John Sadler Mary returned to England where she was now the only surviving child of her mother Elizabeth. Captain John Rose her father had died in 1703 and was buried at All Hallows Staining in London. Her sister Martha who had married Jamaica merchant and agent John Serocold had died in childbirth in February 1716/17.

For a time Mary went to live with her mother who by now was in her seventies, but on the 12th of February 1731/32 at St Dunstan and All Saints she married for a third time as the fifth wife of John Styleman an East India merchant who was by then aged about eighty-two. When Mary was a small child and her siblings were baptised at All Hallows Staining there was a Styleman family in that parish and it is possible that the families had known each other for half a century. John Styleman had spent three decades in India, married there and buried his first wife and five children there before returning to England in the first decade of the eighteenth century to marry three more wives before Mary.

John Styleman died in 1734 and Mary lived out her life in his house in Charterhouse Square in London. She died about May 1750 and opted to be buried with her last husband and three of his wives at Bexley in Kent where he had built almshouses that still exist today. You can read Mary’s Will here. It makes fascinating reading being full of very specific instructions such as leaving the marble fireplaces in the garrets of the house in situ!

Sadly I don’t know exactly which house in Charterhouse Square she lived in, though it could have been one of the ones pictured, and I have no idea where the two portraits of herself and John Styleman now are, if indeed they still exist.

And the reason I called her a snob? In her Will she left her silver plate and jewels to her son Francis but specifically requested him not to use them in Jamaica, and in respect of her other household goods  “I likewise earnestly desire and request that he will not use them at Spanish Town which place is my Aversion for a Planter to live in” .

 

Georgian Flying Machines

Image courtesy of the DeadPubs Directory

While doing some further research about Susanna Hope (see the previous post on a Very Regency Scandal) I came across the following gem:

From the Derby Mercury 1762

MANCHESTER STOCKPORT BUXTON ASHBOURNE and DERBY

Flying Machines from London to Manchester in three days from the Swan with Two Necks in Lad-Lane London and from the Swan with Two Necks in Market-street-Lane Manchester, every Monday and Thursday Mornings at Four o’Clock; and from the GEORGE INN in DERBY every Tuesday and Friday Mornings, at Four o’Clock: each passenger from DERBY to LONDON to pay One Pound Eight Shillings, and to be allowed fourteen pounds Weight of Luggage; all above to pay Two pence per pound.

We seem to have forgotten that stage coaches were once called ‘machines’, although we do still refer to those wheeled vehicles for preserving modesty on England’s beaches as bathing machines.

I reckon that in terms of retail prices this express service cost about twice as much as a first class train ticket does today – well beyond the means of an average worker.

Moreover it appears that charges for excess baggage did not originate with the budget airlines!

 

A very Regency Scandal

Richard Lee about 1795

 

Anyone who has been watching Lucy Worsley’s lovely series on BBC Four  Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency will be aware that scandal was never far from the surface among the families making up the top level of society. The affair of Robert Home Gordon and Susanna Hope, the wife of Joseph Biscoe, was a very Regency scandal involving illicit sex, servants peeping through windows, the rights of a man over his wife and child, great wealth and all ending in a much publicized court case.

Typical of many who had acquired their position via the sugar plantations of Jamaica, Robert Home Gordon passed most of his life in Great Britain spending the wealth generated by his estates – Cromwell estate in St Mary and the Home Castle estate in the parish of St Ann.

He had come to England from Jamaica as a small boy, under the guardianship of Robert Cooper Lee, and went to Harrow School together with Richard Lee. There they also met Joseph Biscoe, about four years their senior, whose mother was Lady Mary Seymour daughter of the Duke of Somerset, and whose father Vincent was a partner in the firm of Hilton and Biscoe, Merchants trading with Jamaica.

On 22nd May 1786 Joseph Biscoe married seventeen year old Susanna Harriot Hope at All Saints Church, Derby. [Location corrected as per comments below] Her father was the well respected Rector of All Saints, now Derby Cathedral. The family were friends of the painter Joseph Wright of Derby and a portrait of Susanna painted a few years before her marriage came up for sale at Christie’s in 2009. It’s a pleasant and very conventional picture of a well to do young girl. Wright doesn’t seem to have seen anything in her to suggest she would later cause the kind of scandal that nudged its way into the national press at a time when it was mostly preoccupied with a raft of treason trials.

For the first seven years the Biscoe’s life together seems to have been a happy one,  living in Derbyshire and Mansfield, and a daughter Mary was born the year after their wedding. There were no further children and in October 1793 the couple moved with their daughter to Kent, taking the lease of Shoreham House the following year from Robert Gordon, to whom Joseph had been reintroduced by Richard Lee.

Biscoe, Gordon and Richard Lee all enjoyed country sports, and Robert Gordon and Richard Lee regularly came down from London to go riding or shooting with Joseph Biscoe. Richard Lee never stayed more than a couple of days before going back to his business in London, but Robert Gordon often stayed several weeks at a time and the Biscoes stayed with him in turn at his hunting box in Kent.

It was at this point that Robert Gordon fell head over heels in love with Susanna and she was undoubtedly attracted to him. Had Joseph Biscoe shown any concern, the affair might have ended before it began.  Instead he continued to go out all day shooting, often with Richard Lee but frequently on his own, leaving Robert Gordon alone with his wife. Although Biscoe claimed to be completely unaware of what was going on the servants were not. It had become common for Robert Gordon to sit for hours alone with Susanna, sending her seven year-old daughter out of the room, and only picking up his gun to go out shortly before Biscoe was due back. Several times when the men came in from shooting Robert and Susanna sat up into the small hours, with Biscoe and Richard Lee having gone to bed hours earlier.

On the 21st October 1794 matters came to a head. Joseph Biscoe had gone up to London on business and Susanna rode out accompanied by the Coachman Francis Swindel. When she met up with Robert, Swindel was told to drop back to where he could not hear their conversation. Her maid Margaret Sparks was already suspicious because that morning Susanna had asked her to leave her drawers unlocked, which the maid had not done wanting to know what Susanna took out of them. It was clear to the servants that an elopement was in the offing. When Gordon and Susanna got back in the middle of the afternoon her two brothers were already there, well aware of her impending flight and having been drinking quantities of Biscoe’s wine while they waited. They spent only a short time talking to Robert before leaving again.

The servants then became aware of a scene being played out between Susanna and Robert Gordon. He was pleading with her to elope with him, stamping noisily up and down in the parlour. She was crying that she could not leave her child. He called for some laudanum to calm her, but the servants, with a somewhat melodramatic turn of mind, suspected that he meant to drug and kidnap her. In any case they had no laudanum and could only provide hartshorn or wine and water.

As it grew dark the lovers left the house unobserved and walked several miles, pursued by Biscoe’s Coachman, before obtaining a chaise at a local inn to take them to Robert Gordon’s London house in Albemarle Street. There they occupied separate but adjoining bedrooms. It was not enough to save her reputation, and Susanna now knew that she had burnt her boats.

The scene was set for a scandalous court case in which the young William Garrow (who featured in the recent BBC series Garrow’s Law) would play a part. Joseph Biscoe, rather than simply demand a divorce, sued Robert Gordon for damages claiming £10,000 for Gordon’s ‘criminal conversation’, i.e. adultery, with his wife. Even for a wealthy man £10,000 was a large sum, equivalent to nearly a million pounds in relation to retail prices, or over ten million pounds relative to average earnings, today.

On the 8th December 1794 a special jury hearing was held before Lord Chief Justice Kenyon. Technically it was the ‘Trial of Mrs Biscoe for Adultery with Robert Gordon Esq.’ although Susanna did not attend. Robert Home Gordon was able to afford some big legal guns and his defence team included Thomas Erskine (later to be Lord Chancellor), William Garrow and a Mr Burrow, while Joseph Biscoe had Messrs Bearcroft, Gibbs and Perceval on his side.

The Biscoe servants were called to give evidence, with Biscoe’s team clearly having decided to paint Susanna as a wronged woman, seduced and possibly made drunk and abducted by Robert Home Gordon. They represented the marriage as blissful and Gordon as a cad who had betrayed his friend’s hospitality.

Robert had ensured that Susanna would not be called to testify by admitting the adultery from the outset – it would have been hard to deny since the couple had been living together at Albemarle Street since October – and so his legal team worked hard to reduce the amount of any damages to be awarded.

Biscoe’s team called several witnesses to testify to his years of happy marriage and that he had been an indulgent husband. However the first hint of where the trouble lay came when an old college friend, George Biggin, described Biscoe as being a man of very reserved character. This gave Erskine the opening he needed and he portrayed Biscoe as a man who would rather spend all day out hunting or shooting than at home with his wife – a man who ‘in consequence of his own gross negligence, permits his wife to have an improper intercourse [unchaperoned meetings] with other men, which may ultimately terminate in the ruin of both’.

Without attempting to destroy Biscoe’s honour Erskine made clear that it should have been obvious to anyone, and particularly Biscoe, that allowing his wife to sit up until three in the morning with Robert Gordon was asking for trouble. Why, Erskine asked, if Biscoe had first become aware of the danger in August, had he not put a stop to it? Why had he done nothing to attempt to reclaim his wife’s affections? Why had he remained in the same room as the lovers while they sat side by side on a ‘sopha’ and did nothing about it? Indeed why when they had gone out riding with Richard Lee, who proposed that all four should stay together, had Biscoe said ‘no, let them go on by themselves, they are made for one another’?

‘After this gentleman sees that his wife’s affections are alienated from him, instead of putting any check or reins upon them, he encourages the defendant, and then comes into a court of justice to complain of them’, said Erskine.

It was a devastating opening statement, representing Biscoe as having thrown his wife into the arms of Robert Gordon, and it was backed up by Richard Lee, who Erskine admitted was appearing as a very reluctant witness. Not only was he a friend of both men, but he was the business associate of Robert Gordon who had grown up with him almost like a brother. Moreover it was Richard who had re-introduced Gordon to Biscoe and who had then watched Gordon fall head over heels for Susanna while her husband did nothing to prevent it. William Garrow asked Richard if he had thought Biscoe was ‘a prudent discreet, cautious husband’ and Richard answered ‘I do not think he was’.

Richard was then asked by Biscoe’s lawyers whether he had thought that Gordon had gone to Kent with the intention of seducing Susanna.

‘I took it for granted, and I thought him criminal’, replied Richard. But when challenged as to why he had done nothing to prevent it he told the jury that ‘I should have thought it extremely improper to interfere in any degree.’ Poor Richard was clearly caught in an impossible situation, deeply disapproving of Robert Gordon’s conduct but not feeling it right to intervene or interfere, and believing it was clear that Biscoe did not care enough to put a stop to the affair.

Kenyon was scathing in his summing up:

On the part of the Defendant they tell you, that Mr Biscoe has stood by and seen his wife debauched; and, if that is so, he is one of the most atrocious men living. And if you see Mr Biscoe to be the pander of the lusts of the Defendant, give him not a farthing, but give the Defendant your verdict. But on the contrary, if you shall be of the opinion that the Plaintiff was put off his guard, by pretended friendship, and that he has been robbed of his domestic comforts by the foulest conspiracy, I think no damages but Ten Thousand Pounds will satisfy the fair calls which Mr Biscoe makes on your honours and your consciences for justice.

In spite of the evident adultery, and Lord Kenyon’s censuring of Richard Lee for failing to intervene, the Jury obviously felt that Biscoe was partly to blame. They withdrew for only a short time and found in favour of Biscoe, but the claim for damages was halved to £5000.

Susanna probably never saw her daughter again, for she was put in the care of Joseph’s sister Mary and brought up in her father’s household. In 1807 she married Sir Robert Harry Inglis, and in 1815 they adopted the nine orphaned children of Henry and Marianne Thornton.

Joseph finally obtained a divorce in 1796 and remarried in 1799, having seven children with his new wife Stephana Law.

Susanna and Robert Gordon continued to live together but did not marry until some years later, a codicil to Robert’s Will implying that by 1812 they were married under both English and Scots Law. This was important as he had substantial estates in Scotland.

Robert died in Brighton in 1826 and, as they had no children, when Susanna died in 1839 most of the property went to Robert’s cousin Sir Orford Gordon of Embo.

It seems a sad ending to a whirlwind romance and elopement and I can only hope they were happy together.