The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 3/3)

A few days ago I posted about my trip to Walcheren in the Netherlands, where my other half and I cycle-camped for several days last week. I wanted to do some on-the-spot research for my upcoming biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, who commanded the military part of the abortive British expedition to Walcheren in 1809.

For a brief historical overview of the campaign, and an account of my visit to Vlissingen (Flushing) and Middelburg, please see Part 1. See Part 2 for my account of Arnemuiden, Grijpskerke, and Breezand. Otherwise, read on for Part 3 of my Walcheren peregrinations…

Day 5 (1 April): Breezand – Domburg – Zouteland – Vlissingen

This was our most beautiful day yet: about 20ºC and SUNNY. We left Breezand to cycle along the coast back to Vlissingen.

Our intention was to take in the two beaches where the British ought to have landed: Zouteland Bay (abandoned at the end of July at Strachan’s request) and Domburg (abandoned because of the weather).

We did not spend much time at Domburg, but I stopped to climb to the top of the tall seaward dyke to take a photograph of the beach.

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Domburg Beach

We then proceeded with all dispatch to Oostkapelle. Here we stopped for lunch, just outside the 1944 museum. There were a number of WWII museums on Walcheren. Obvious reasons for this, but I did find myself having the following conversation more than once:

Me: I’m here because I’m reasearching the Walcheren expedition.

Dutch person: The 1944 one?

Me: No. No, not that one.

Next stop was Zouteland Bay. By this time the sun was shining enthusiastically, and other half and I were both beginning to look a little pink about the ears. We decided to pause only briefly to take a photo or two of the beaches where the British really ought to have landed, had they not kept changing their landing plans every five seconds. Other half remained with the tandem, while I climbed to the top of the pretty high sandhills.

Minutes later I came down and fetched him, because the view was stunning.

I could see the whole island (OK, peninsula now) from the top of that dyke. On the distant horizon I could see the windmills along the Veere Dam, near Breezand. Further along were the steeples of Domburg and Grijpskerke churches. Veere was just about visible directly across. The Lange Jan at Middelburg could clearly be seen, as could the tall buildings at Vlissingen.

It was a salutary reminder of how small Walcheren actually is (we could have easily cycled round the whole thing in a day, had we not stopped to do the tourist thing). I imagine that when Chatham’s army had landed at Breezand and were marching in four columns through the interior, the various columns would have remained in sight of each other most of the time (barring more greenery on trees, and decreased visibility due to rain and mist, of course).

The beach was pretty, too. But, as my husband observed: “Thank goodness they didn’t land here, because they would have had a hard time fighting up their way up these sandhills.” They were the tallest sandhills we encountered on the whole island. In 1809 they were probably different, but I imagine not that much different, and topped with very prickly gorse. The French would probably have given a much stiffer resistance here, particularly as Zouteland is so much closer to Flushing.

As we discovered, since it took us only half an hour to cycle into Flushing after stopping for these photos. We stopped at De Nolle campsite, chosen by me mainly because it was clearly located somewhere between two of the British batteries erected outside Flushing during the bombardment (the Nolle and Vijgeter batteries).

In the postwar era, this area of Flushing has been completely levelled and rebuilt, so there is no real way of knowing exactly where the British batteries were (and in any case I had to leave all my books at home, since we were travelling light, so had no 1809 maps with me). But it was still pretty thrilling to be camping very close to where the British established their lines in 1809. It was a surprisingly long way from the old town itself, but then we were probably a little further out than the actual Nolle.

Day 6 (2 April): Vlissingen – Breskens – De Haan (Belgium)

The time had come to say goodbye to Walcheren. We packed up our tent and cycled to the Breskens ferry.

This was our last view on Flushing as we crossed over to the mainland:

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We were surprised to see dozens of enormous, heavily-laden cargo vessels sailing through the Flushing roads. Some of them actually crossed the path of our ferry, although I suspect their passage was well-timed to avoid any accidents!

The navigation of the West Scheldt was much better-known to the British than that of the East in 1809, hence the decision to attempt sailing down the West rather than the East Scheldt to reach Antwerp. The river is evidently much deeper here in parts, as the cargo boats showed. However, the navigation is clearly still very tricky. In 1809, during the bombardment of Flushing, Strachan’s flagship and that of one of his subordinates, Lord Gardner, ran aground on sandbanks. Even now every cargo vessel received the aid of a tiny pilot vessel (there were half a dozen of them sheltering in Flushing harbour at all times, zooming constantly in and out):

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Cargo vessel with pilot outside Flushing

By lunchtime we were back on the Cadzand shore. We cycled like the blazes and got across the border into Belgium in no time (uneventful, except for my husband dropping the tandem at one point as we came to a stop… ouch!).

We spent the next two days cycling back to Dunkerque. The return crossing was much less rough and we returned to Oxford at half past ten PM in the evening of Monday 4 April, having covered just over 450 km.

We had so much fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat — particularly as there is so much we did not see!

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The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 2/3)

A few days ago I posted about my trip to Walcheren in the Netherlands, where my other half and I cycle-camped for several days last week. I wanted to do some on-the-spot research for my upcoming biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, who commanded the military part of the abortive British expedition to Walcheren in 1809.

For a brief historical overview of said campaign, and an account of my visit to Vlissingen (Flushing) and Middelburg, please see my previous post. Otherwise, read on for Part 2 of my Walcheren peregrinations…

Night 3 (30 March): Arnemuiden

We spent the night at a beautiful little farmhouse with the world’s most enormous barn, somewhere on the road between Middeburg and Arnemuiden. Thanks to land reclamation, Arnemuiden is no longer just off the Sloe Passage between Walcheren and the island of Suid-Beveland. In fact, as you can see by comparing the two maps at the top of this page, neither Walcheren nor Suid-Beveland is in fact an island any more at all. The Sloe, which caused so much tension between Chatham and Strachan, the naval commander, is no more, and Arnemuiden now looks out across acres of flat farmland studded with modern windmills. The whole 1809 expedition would have been much easier now than in 1809, when there were so many narrow watery bits and so many sandbanks to navigate between Walcheren and the “ultimate objective”, Antwerp. Now Chatham would just have been able to land and march.

In 1809, however, he did not have that luxury.* Arnemuiden was therefore an important place because the troops destined for Antwerp embarked here in the troop transports during the days after the fall of Flushing in August. Between 18 and 21 August, the 8000 reinforcements Chatham had landed on Walcheren to help cope with the increased French manpower in Flushing re-embarked under Generals Graham and Grosvenor. They spent the next four to six days stuck in the Sloe, twiddling their thumbs while the naval bods continually measured the depth of the channel and inched forwards (not helped by contrary wind and general poor weather).

A few days later Suid-Beveland was completely evacuated via Arnemuiden. A large proportion of the returning British were by this time very ill and the medical department, caught on the hop, had no resources to deal with them.


*Don’t even get me started on Strachan’s supposed suggestion of 1 August 1809 that Chatham land the men destined for Antwerp on Suid-Beveland and march them across the island to embark for Sandvliet, instead of sailing them through the Sloe Passage: “With him alone was there an option between a March of 36 hours, and a Voyage of an indefinite length”, etc etc (Strachan’s narrative, 5 March 1810, NA PRO 30/8/260 f 52). For more on that, see my book when it comes out.


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Evacuation of Suid-Beveland, 30 August 1809 (from here)

One of Sir Eyre Coote’s ADCs reported: “We are not sufficiently supplied with Medical Officers or Medicines … [the sick in Flushing are] laying on the bare boards without Paillasses & many without Blankets. By an unfortunate mistake the Hospital Stores were shipped [from Suid-Beveland] with those of the Quarter Master General’s Department, and the Vessels being off Batz [Bath], no supplies can be received for the Habitants on this island”. The sick who arrived at Arnemuiden were “moved in Waggons” to Flushing, which (having been so recently bombarded) had very little accommodation that was not bomb-damaged in some way. (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3) Here they continued to lie, two or three in a bed under hastily-erected tarpaulins to keep out the weather, while Chatham waited for instructions to send the rising numbers of sick back to England. These took so long in coming he eventually had to start sending the sick home without orders.

We didn’t spend much time in Arnemuiden, which we entered only to purchase some food to cook, but (fittingly) I was eaten alive by mosquitoes during the night. There were clouds of the blighters everywhere we went on the island, even in late March. I swatted a fair few of them, which did little in the practical sense but made me feel a bit better as a historian.

Day 4 (31 March): Arnemuiden – Veere – Grijpskerke – Breezand

We had had some thoughts about going down to Bath on Suid-Beveland, which was the closest Chatham and his men ever got to Antwerp (about nine miles away), but although we would have had time, we heard there was little to see there: the fort where Chatham stayed was gone, and land reclamation meant the territory had changed beyond recognition. We decided to stay on Walcheren instead, and see more of the “important stuff”.

Next day we were up bright and early and cycled the short distance along the canal to Veere. Veere was one of the more important towns that fell to the British on 1 August 1809: without possession of Veere, which defended the entrance to the Sloe Passage, the British ships could not proceed from the East to the West Scheldt. (The final link in the chain, Fort Rammekens, surrendered on 3 August.)

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Veere, by the canal

The centre of Veere probably hasn’t changed a great deal since 1809, although the town itself has got a lot bigger. The houses along the harbour’s edge are all 16th-17th century types, many probably older, and the place with its cobbled streets and CONSTANT bell-ringing from the Town Hall bell-tower has a lovely old-school feel to it.

Mind you, it probably wasn’t such a nice place to be on 1 August 1809, when General Fraser laid siege to it and bombarded it into submission. He was assisted by Home Popham, who brought several gunboats into play from the sea side. Assaulted by both army and navy, Veere surrendered within the day.

Popham’s unauthorised use of gunboats got him (and Chatham) into trouble. When Sir Richard Strachan found out that his boats were being brought close to the town walls, he gave orders for them to fall back. He immediately Chatham an extremely irritated letter, which must really have started things off between the two commanders on a great footing:

I cannot approve of the manner in which the Naval force has been applied this Morning to the great waste of Ammunition & Stores, without effecting one good purpose. I shall be most happy my Lord at all times to meet your wishes and to forward by every means in my power the operations of the rmy even if I did not feel that I was personally Concern’d in the Success of its operations, but I hope whenever your Lordship wishes to have the navy employ’d in a particular way that you would be pleased to signify your wishes to me. (NA PRO 30/8/369 f 70)

He may have had a point, as several gunboats sank during the bombardment.

Unlike Flushing, which shows no sign whatever of the British assault, a few of Veere’s houses on the canalfront have a few interesting architectural additions:

I’m fairly sure there has been a little “touching up” since 1809, but I am reliably informed these bad boys were launched either by Popham’s gunboats or Fraser’s batteries. There’s no fanfare about it, still less a plaque, but if you keep your eyes open you will see several houses with these interesting talking-points in various places.

Something else I found interesting in Veere was the Scottish connection. It seems one of the Lords of Veere in the 15th century married a daughter of the Scottish King. One of the clauses of the marriage contract was that Scots traders would have exclusive rights to trade from Veere, then a big commercial port (so long as they promised not to interfere with Dutch continental trade). In the 18th century, the Scots were still a big presence in Veere, and even had their own name for the place (“Cam Veere”). I had noticed one or two contemporary sources mentioning the Scots in Veere, but presumed they were talking about the 71st regiment, which I believe participated in besieging the place. It seems the reality was much more complicated.

Veere is no longer an atlantic trading station. It has been overtaken by bigger commercial centres, but the Veere Gat channel between Walcheren and Noord-Beveland has now been closed off by the Veere Dam, creating the Veere Sea. Had Home Popham attempted to sail the British fleet into the Veere Gat now, he’d have run into trouble fairly swiftly.

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On the Veere Dam, looking out towards the Veere Sea (and probaby standing right where Popham sailed the British fleet in 1809…)

We spent some time wandering the streets of Veere, visiting the museum, and being driven half-demented by the tinkling of the bells (I don’t think I have ever heard bells replicate a baroque trill before), before leaving for our accommodation at Breezand.

On our way up we passed through Grijpskerke, which was where Chatham established his second headquarters on Walcheren on the night of 31 July 1809. Chatham had never intended to set foot on Walcheren: according to the original plan (see my first post) he had meant to stay with the main part of the army sailing down the West Scheldt to Sandvliet and Antwerp. Due to the poor weather conditions that drove nearly the whole expedition into the Roompot, however, he ended up on the wrong side of the island, and decided instead to shadow Sir Eyre Coote’s siege of Flushing.

Coote wasn’t best pleased by the arrangement, particularly when Chatham and his staff kept stealing all the best accommodation everywhere they went: “The Commander of the Forces, with all his collateral Staff, arrived at Grypskerke at the same time as we did, and so crouded the place, that it was with difficulty, we could obtain a lodging”. (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3)

I can see why, as Grijpskerke was, and still is, tiny tiny tiny. But it was very cute, and had a neat little Protestant church in the centre, which begged to be photographed.

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Church at Grijpskerke

We continued cycling to Breezand. I was looking forward to seeing the place where the British actually made their landing in the evening of 30 July 1809. Breezand was not the originally chosen landing place. The first landing place selected for the expedition, in July 1809, was the broad beaches at Zouteland, a couple of miles north of Flushing, but Strachan insisted on landing further away when the French brought their fleet out into the Flushing roads.

The plan was therefore changed in late July to land near Domburg, at the south-western tip of the island, further away from Flushing but still on the right side of the island. Due to the south-westerly gale on 29 July, however, Domburg became unsafe for landing. The only viable place was Breezand, sheltered by the Roompot and by nearby Noord-Beveland, where the French were in any case not expecting the Brits (… and why would they have been? Breezand was at the WRONG BLOODY END OF THE BLOODY ISLAND).

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Breezand, looking towards Veere Dam (formerly the Veere Gat)

The British landed in the evening of 30 July 1809, once the storm had calmed down a little bit. They encountered minimal resistance and swiftly beat back the French through the scrubland along the top of the dunes, taking Fort Den Haak in short order and chasing the fort’s garrison to the gates of Veere (where they were fired on and forced to retreat).

Fort Den Haak no longer stands (destroyed by the British before they left in December 1809), but there is a plaque. This was the only obvious recognition I saw anywhere on the peninsula acknowledging that the 1809 expedition had taken place. Poor Lt-Gen Fraser, though (the highest-ranking casualty of “Walcheren Fever”) gets saddled with responsibility for the whole expedition, just because he happened to command the taking of the fort. Not sure who’d be more annoyed about that, Fraser or Chatham!

Breezand is now a holiday resort, so we were spoiled for choice in terms of campsites. The one we chose had direct access to a private area of beach, only a half kilometre or so from Fort Den Haak. The beach was broad and very clean, fringed with shallow sandhills (they were not hard to climb) and topped with a tangle of prickly gorse and twisted birch.

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Road through the sandhills to Breezand

I visited there about 7pm on a beautiful evening. It was the last day of March, so not the end of July by any means, and of course the British landed after a storm when the sea was still very choppy, so the conditions were in no way alike. Still, I was almost entirely alone, and I felt there was very little but time separating me from the landing two hundred years previously.

I even saw some riders on the beach, and wondered whether it was an echo through the ages of Chatham and his staff riding to Fort Den Haak for the night.

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Horse riders on Breezand

Apparently the night following the landing was wet and cold. Ours was definitely cold, but beautifully clear. I saw a shooting star over Middelburg (which, in daylight, you could just make out on the horizon from the top of the dunes).

Part 3/3 follows shortly, taking us all the way round the island and back to Flushing…

The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 1/3)

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In the new year I suggested to my husband that I would like to visit Walcheren before finishing my book. He looked interested, but not that interested, so I decided to up the ante.

Me: We could cycle it.

Husband (perking up): What, you mean the whole way?

Me: Why not?

Husband: And camp?

Me: ………. All right.

Husband: You’re on.

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How we travelled

And so we planned an Easter trip (because, you know, Russian roulette with the weather is all part of the fun). Arrangements were made for the kids to go to their grandparents; I made a suggested itinerary, compiled a long list of likely campsites, booked train tickets and ferries, and we packed. As lightly as possible, as we would be cycling 450 km (280 miles) on a tandem.

Our whole trip, including trains between Oxford and West Folkestone (with some cycling in London between stations) and the ferries across the Channel, looked something like this:

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Map data ©2016 Google

A (brief) historical note

For those of you who are not au fait with the Walcheren Expedition of 1809, this, in a rather rotten nutshell, is what happened.

walcheren map from flickr

Map from Fortescue, History of the British Army VII (supplement). Image from here

The Walcheren expedition was Britain’s contribution to the Fifth Coalition with Austria. Austria would conduct the main continental campaign against Napoleon while Britain engaged in a diversionary attack in an area of her own choosing. Britain chose a “coup de main” against Antwerp, which was a huge French dockyard and commercial centre. Destroying Antwerp would be a cheap way for Britain to neutralise the danger of French invasion, pierce Napoleon’s Continental System which was damaging British trade, and draw Napoleon’s attention away from Austrian action inland. Unfortunately the Battle of Wagram put Austria out of the war before the Walcheren expedition even started, but the campaign continued anyway in the hope that victory would keep Austria in the war.

Lord Chatham was appointed to command the military part of the biggest expeditionary force fielded by Britain so far during the war: about 40,000 soldiers and over 600 vessels, more than 200 of which were warships. Sir Richard Strachan commanded the naval part of the expedition.

The expedition consisted of four parts. The smallest, under Lord Huntly, would land on the Cadzand shore and neutralise the French battery at Breskens, allowing the main part of the fleet to enter the West Scheldt. Meanwhile, 12,000 men under Chatham’s second-in-command, Sir Eyre Coote, would lay siege to Vlissingen (Flushing). The reserve under Sir John Hope would take control of the neighbouring island of Suid-Beveland, allowing the remaining 20,000 men under Chatham himself to sail all the way to Sandvliet, reduce the largest forts protecting the narrow part of the Scheldt (Lillo and Liefkenshoek), and march on to destroy the dockyards of Antwerp.

Things went wrong almost immediately. The expedition sailed (late) at the end of July, and ran into a storm. Home Popham, the unofficial Captain of the Fleet, saved the expedition by sailing it into the sheltered Roompot and through the Veere Gat at the furthest point of Walcheren, but this meant most of the expedition (except for Huntly) were now in the East rather than the West Scheldt. Meanwhile, Lord Huntly failed to land at Cadzand, which meant the Breskens battery remained active and continued to reinforce Flushing by boat. This meant the British ships could only enter the West Scheldt through the sandbank-filled Sloe Passage separating Walcheren and Suid-Beveland. Understandably, it took time and effort to get hundreds of troop and supply transports through to the West Scheldt.

Chatham and Coote landed on Walcheren on 30 July 1809 at Breezand and initially made swift progress. By 3 August, all Walcheren except Flushing and all Suid Beveland were in British hands. At this stage the campaign stalled. The British fleet could not get into position to complete the siege of Flushing because of unfavourable winds, and the French continued reinforcing the town until 7 or 8 August. Because of this Chatham was forced to reinforce Coote from the men destined for Antwerp, putting that part of the plan on hold until Flushing fell. With no time for a slow siege, bombardment was the only option, but the British batteries were slow to build due to poor weather and did not open until 13 August. After two days of intensive bombardment Flushing fell, and after a short delay Chatham moved onto Suid-Beveland to continue to Antwerp.

By this time, however, the French had managed to bring 35,000 men to the area, removed their fleet further upriver, and repaired their fortifications. At about this time, sickness also broke out among the British troops. By the end of August a quarter of the army was out of action with a crippling combination of malaria, dysentery, typhus, and typhoid. Chatham called off the expedition on 27 August, and returned to England in mid-September with the bulk of the army.  The politicians had hoped to retain the valuable commercial base of Walcheren, and 16,000 men remained there with that in mind, but by December it was clear possessing the island was not worth the cost of defending it and it was evacuated.

Thankfully, our expedition was rather more successful, although we didn’t get to Antwerp either………..

The Walcheren Expedition of 1809 2016: Days 1-2

The first two days were, essentially, spent just getting there. We left Oxford at 3:00 am on 28 March, caught the train to West Folkestone, and cycled the remaining distance across the cliffs to Dover (grrrmbllr engineering works grrmmbbllr). The beginning of our journey was considerably enlivened by Storm Katie, which decided to break the night before we left. We had one cancelled train because of a tree on the line, and some delays, but apart from that Katie did little but give us a very rough ferry journey and then a tailwind on the other side (wheeeeeeeeeee).

We spent the first night in De Panne (Belgium), and on the second day reached Cadzand.

From here on, here’s a more detailed map of our Walcheren cycling:

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Map data ©2016 Google

Day 3 (30 March): Cadzand – Breskens – Vlissingen – Middelburg – Arnemuiden

We hit the coast pretty quickly after leaving Cadzand, and pretty much immediately we had our first sight of Walcheren:

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First sight of Walcheren!

If you consult the map at the top of this page, you can see we were approaching Vlissingen (Flushing) along the Wielingen Channel, which forms the opening to the West Scheldt. This was where Lord Huntly failed to land and disable the Breskens battery, which continued reinforcing Flushing for most of the siege. Flushing, incidentally, is the town on the right with the tall buildings.

We proceeded to Breskens, where we caught the ferry across to Flushing. I thought about the French reinforcements for Flushing making the same journey in 1809 under the nose of the British ships, rendered completely inactive by the contrary winds. I wonder if they indulged in a few rounds of “Your mother was a hamster, &c” as they went. I imagine they probably did.

 

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Once in Flushing, I was expecting to find the place looking very new and shiny with very few pre-1809 buildings surviving. The devastation of Chatham’s August 1809 bombardment was, by all accounts, pretty extensive.

 

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Flushing Town Hall during the bombardment, from here

I was agreeably surprised to find the town full of 16th and 17th century buildings. I daresay most of them lost their roof in 1809, and probably again in 1944, when the British returned to flatten Flushing a second time (this time by RAF bombing). There is quite a lot about the role of Walcheren in WWII on the island: several plaques, statues, monuments, museums, etc etc etc. There is virtually no sign of the 1809 expedition, however, which goes to show that victories are much more likely to be remembered than failures, particularly when said victories occurred within living memory.

Some of the fortifications were 16th century, although most dated from 1812, when the damage the British made to the harbour on leaving in 1809 was repaired. There was a windmill from 1699 on the seafront though, which appears in many prints of the bombardment of Flushing.

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British assault on Flushing from “France Militaire”, showing the 1699 windmill

After leaving Flushing, we made our way to Middelburg. Middelburg was where Chatham established his main headquarters, from 1 August 1809 until he moved to Suid-Beveland on 21 August. He returned there at the beginning of September.

Middelburg is still the capital of Zeeland, and a mighty pretty place it is too. The anonymous author of Letters from Flushing (London, 1809, pp. 109, 145, 207) described it as “an Amsterdam in miniature”, a fortified town with eight gates and twelve basions “with large and deep ditches filled with water”. Another source (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3) wrote:

Middelburg, the Capital of Dutch Zealand, is a very handsome opulent town, well paved & lighted. The streets are pretty regular, and the houses very well built. … The appearance of the Town denotes a great degree of ease & opulence. … The Town is surrounded with a wide wet ditch of regular Bastions, but there are no Guns mounted on the Ramparts & the environs are so covered wth habitations & Plantations, that It could make no defence, so long as they were suffered to exist. The Groote Kercke, or principal church has a handsome steeple & very melodious chimes, which are for ever in play.

I can testify to the church chimes being “very melodious” and “for ever in play”. I could imagine Chatham being kept awake by them at *cough* ten o’clock in the morning *cough*.

He stayed in the Abbey while in Middelburg. The “Lange Jan” (“Long John”) church tower is attached to this. It is now the Zeeuws Museum, and therefore accessible to the public, although it was gutted during WWII. Some of the fixtures seem to be original, though:

Yes, I probably spent more time looking at the fixtures than at the museum exhibits (those were interesting too).

The Abbey itself (it closed in 1574) is a magnificent building, and I can totally understand why Chatham spent so much time there.

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Middelburg Abbey

We wandered about Middelburg for a couple of happy hours.  I should mention that at this stage of the trip I had not yet fully realised where we were yet and so the full import of our location had not yet penetrated. I suppose on some level I was kind of aware I was in the place I had been reading about for so long, but I think it was only when we reached Veere, the next day, that I truly realised WE WERE ON WALCHEREN.

But that is for Part 2

(And, as it turns out, because I’m utterly incapable of concision, Part 3)

John Hoppner’s portrait of the 2nd Earl of Chatham

The 2nd Earl of Chatham was painted a few times during his long lifetime. Not all of them still exist, of course. He was painted by an unknown silhouettist in Bath in 1777, and goodness knows what has happened to that. Two years later, in 1779, the Duke of Rutland commissioned a full-length portrait of his friend by Reynolds, but this perished in the Belvoir Castle fire of 1816 (and yes, I still cry about it). The silhouettist Charles Rosenberg also painted Chatham in 1800: I have seen a picture of this, but have no idea who now owns it. Apart from these instances, I know of five other extant portraits of Chatham:

  • By John Singleton Copley in “The Death of the Earl of Chatham”, ca 1779-1780
  • By George Romney in 1783
  • By Martin Archer Shee in ca 1794-5 (I call this one “Bad Hair Day John”)
  • By the studio of John Hoppner, ca 1799
  • By George Hayter in “The Trial of Queen Caroline”, ca 1821

I had the good fortune to see the “studio of Hoppner” painting last week. As a former First Lord of the Admiralty, Chatham’s portrait is currently in the possession of the Royal Marines, and hangs in the Commando Forces Officers’ Mess at Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth. The Marines very kindly invited me down to see it, and to photograph it to appear in my forthcoming biography.

They also very kindly got it down from the wall for me, so I even got to help carry it (a somewhat terrifying experience).

Here it is, in all its glory:

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John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (studio of John Hoppner) (Courtesy of the Royal Marines Commando Forces, Stonehouse Barracks)

This is, of course, the portrait that was engraved by Valentine Green in 1799 and by Charles Turner in 1809.

The “studio of Hoppner” portrait (as it is described in both Ehrman’s “The Younger Pitt: the reluctant transition” and Robin Reilly’s “Pitt the Younger”) is something of a mystery. Nobody quite knows how long it has been in the possession of the Marines, although their records show it being in their collection as early as 1964 and there is a (probably early twentieth century) RM museum label on the back of the frame. But then their records also have it as a painting by Lemuel Abbott, which I’m pretty confident it is not.

Where it came from is also unknown. Online catalogues of Hoppner’s paintings describe the “original” as having been in the possession of Sir William Bellingham, whose descendant, Sir Henry, displayed it in 1902-3 at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Sir William Bellingham was certainly a vey close friend of Chatham’s, so the provenance for that portrait is sound. It is, however, described as:

hoppner_snapshot

Uhm. Star of an order? Sash yes, but no Garter star. However, there *is* the following portrait (from here), which claimed to be the “original” Hoppner exhibited by Sir Henry Bellingham:

johnhoppner_poorcopy

I have no idea of the provenance, but (apart from the fact Chatham is wearing the Garter in this painting) I’d say it’s a poor copy of the one the Marines have. The Marines’ painting may not be the “proper” Hoppner original, but in my opinion it is much more likely to be a Hoppner than the above.

My feeling is that the “original” Hoppner with the Star (belonging to the Bellingham family) is still out there somewhere. Where? I don’t know. But it is worth noting that the copy of the portrait owned by the Marines is subtly different from the black and white (poor quality) photos reproduced in Ehrman and Reilly. Clearly several copies of this portrait were made and handed out to friends and family.

For those who are curious, incidentally, Lord Chatham is wearing a Windsor uniform in this painting (not “naval uniform”, as the Artnet site claims *eyeroll*).

And in my opinion……………. it’s a very fine portrait 😀

_______

References

  • H.P.K. Skipton, John Hoppner (London, 1905)
  • William McKay and W. Roberts, John Hoppner, R.A. (London, 1909)

Many thanks to the Royal Marines Commandos of Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth, for permission to reproduce the photographs of the portrait of the 2nd Earl of Chatham.

“The favourite child of Fortune”: more on Henry Hollis Bradford

Research often relies on serendipity, and I experienced that powerfully yesterday. I was in the National Library of Scotland, plugging a few research gaps, and called up a letter from 1817 written by John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in the Walter Scott Papers. As far as I know, Chatham had no direct contact with Sir Walter Scott, although his wife’s sister (the Duchess of Buccleuch) was Scott’s patroness. I was curious to see what the letter was about.

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In fact it was one of several letters on the subject of the death of Sir Henry Hollis Bradford, who (if you will cast your minds back to a recent post of mine) had been one of Chatham’s aides-de-camp for many years. Bradford had served Chatham since about 1807 in the Eastern District, and followed him to Walcheren. Thereafter he pursued a distinguished career under Wellington in the Peninsula, and was seriously wounded during the Battle of Waterloo. Bradford died on 17 December 1816 in France at the age of 35.

I did a little digging on Bradford when I wrote my earlier blog post, but yesterday I learned a whole lot more about him and the circumstances of his Waterloo wound and death. It seems he was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, which is how all this correspondence survived in the first place, because his brother, General Sir Thomas Bradford, suggested Scott might want to compose the epitaph on Bradford’s tomb.[1]

I do not know the exact circumstances of Henry Bradford’s death, but it looks as though there was a bit of an attempt to connect it directly with his wound at Waterloo. Lieutenant-Colonel James Hunter Blair, Bradford’s friend, certainly thought so:

It is a consoling circumstance that … he [Bradford] lost his Life in the service of his Country & on an occasion when his Services were most distinguished. After having gone thro’ all the dangers of the 16th June, it became his duty as Q[uarter] M[aster] General to the Division of Guards, to direct & superintend the defences of Hugoumont [sic] which were so essential to the sucess of the eventful 18th … He was wounded towards the close of the Day on the 18th, at the moment of the general charge which repulsed the Imperial Guard.[2]

Sir Everard Home, from Wikimedia Commons

Sir Everard Home, from Wikimedia Commons

The surgeon Sir Everard Home, although he did not have a chance of inspecting the body, gave his opinion for the benefit of Bradford’s family:

[The ball] must have struck upon the side of the Vertebrae and recoiled upon the Spine of the Os Ilium where it was extracted on the 18th of June 1815 … An abcess took place on the Liver which came to the Skin[,] was opened[,] and healed.

These are all the intermediate circumstances. A fever came on yielding to no mode of treatment[.] Great despondency[,] irritability, wasting ensue[d], and the Patient die[d]. … My opinion is that all the most distressing Symptoms, the despondency, depression[,] emaciation[,] and the death which was the consequence of these Symptoms took place in consequence of the wound, by means of which the Spinal Marrow had been much irritated (although … no paralytic symptoms followed) that the brain and nervous System were disturbed beyond their bearing … Every thing possible was done, and … nothing could have saved him.[3]

It is of course possible that the wound had gone septic and killed him slowly over the course of several months; reading between the lines of the correspondence, however, Bradford seems not to have suffered overmuch physically from long-term effects, but was certainly strongly scarred mentally. Not, of course, an unnatural thing to happen, particularly as he seems to have had some damage to his spine.

Whatever the precise medical cause of death, Lieutenant-Colonel Blair was probably right that the cause of death was the Waterloo wound, one way or another, anyway. But the circumstances of the death were undeniably tragic, for Bradford had still been a comparatively young man. “Until his unexpected death he seemed the favourite child of Fortune,” Blair wrote. “… She had lavished on him every kind of favor, & he was not less remarkable on account of personal advantages[,] fascinating and best bred manners, than for a mind of dispositions which did him the highest honor & were an honor to the human race.”[2]

As for Chatham, he had remained close to his former aide long after their professional paths had diverged in the wake of Walcheren. Bradford had kept him regularly posted about his activities, and Chatham followed all his aides’ career paths with great interest. Lieutenant-Colonel Blair lost no time in informing Chatham of his former aide’s death, and Chatham wrote a letter of condolence that struck Blair was being of “a degree of regret & feeling most flattering to his memory”. He enclosed it for Sir Walter Scott’s reference, assuming Scott agreed to write Bradford’s epitaph:

Abington Hall, December 22 1816 [4]

Dear Sir,

Your Letter reached me this morning and I have in the first place to offer you my thanks for the kind and considerate manner in which you have executed the painful task imposed on you by Sir Thomas Bradford who has indeed done justice to my feelings towards his poor Brother, in thinking how severe an affliction the fatal event you had to communicate must prove to me.

In poor Bradford I have lost a most valuable and intimate Friend, for whom I had the sincerest affection, and whose progress through life I had followed with the most anxious interest, and it was ever a source to me of the truest gratification to find, how much both as a man and an Officer he was admired, esteemed and loved by all who knew him. Most sincerely indeed do I condole with all his family on this sad occasion, and on whom I fear this most heavy blow must have come rather unexpectedly.

I will not break in upon Sir Thomas Bradford in his present scene of distress with any Letter but as I shall be really anxious to know how he and all his Family are, I should be very much obliged to you to give me one line to say how you left them. I regret extremely that being absent from Town, I shall be deprived of the pleasure of seeing you, when you were so good to call in Hill Street, and I should have derived a melancholy satisfaction, in hearing from you every particular you could give me respecting the fate of my poor departed friend.

I remain my dear Sir

Your very faithful humble Servant,

Chatham [5]

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I do not know whether Scott composed the epitaph for Bradford or not, but since the correspondence is preserved among his papers, I gather he probably did. The epitaph reads:

To the memory of Sir Henry Hollis Bradford, Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath, and Lieutenant Colonel of the First of Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards, This Monument is erected by his companions in arms, the witnesses of his valor, and sharers of his social hours. He died at La Vacherie, near Lilliers in France, on the 17th of December 1816, in the 36th year of his age; and was buried in this Church-Yard.

It isn’t much, but it is eloquent in its simplicity. I’d like to think Scott wrote it, and that Chatham’s regret helped shape the sentiments of it.

References

[1] Sir Thomas Bradford to James Hunter Blair, 28 February 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 32

[2] James Hunter Blair to [?], [February] 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 35

[3] Sir Everard Home’s opinion, 18 February 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 29

[4] The copy of the letter reads 1817, but since the correspondence dates from February 1817 that cannot be correct

[5] Lord Chatham to Lieutenant-Colonel Blair, 22 December 1816, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 31

“Upon my Honor”: the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s Pedigree

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On Tuesday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of visiting the Parliamentary Archives. My research purpose was to check out the Proxy Books covering the House of Lords career of the 2nd Earl of Chatham (1778 – 1835), but since I was on the spot I decided to order up Chatham’s official House of Lords Pedigree as well.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Chatham’s pedigree (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

The practice of delivering Pedigrees when a new peer took his seat in Parliament dates back to a House Standing Order of 11 May 1767, designed to put an end to succession disputes and confusion over descent. The practice of record-keeping by the Office of Heralds had lapsed over the centuries, and the importance of tracing accurate lineage was increased by the fact the House of Lords was both a political and a legal institution.[1]

The Standing Order required “that Garter King of Arms do officially attend this House upon the day and at the time of the first admission of every Peer, whether by creation or descent, and that he do then and there deliver in at the table a Pedigree of the Family of such Peer, fairly described on vellum”, covering the peer’s parents, siblings, spouses, children, and so on, “according to seniority, down to the day on which such Pedigree shall be so delivered in”. Each peer was permitted to prove his Pedigree before the Committee of Privileges, and a copy of the Pedigree would be kept with the Records of the House of Lords and the Office of Arms.[2]

I was hoping to settle a point that has been bothering me for a long time. A few days ago I blogged for Chatham’s birthday, and explained my reasons for believing him to have been be born on 10 October 1756. His father wrote several letters on that date announcing his birth, and when he was baptised on 7 November, the 10th October was recorded as his date of birth. However, his family celebrated his 17th birthday on 9 October 1773, and nearly everyone since has followed that lead.

I therefore hoped that seeing the Pedigree might help settle the issue, and I was not disappointed. It seems Chatham’s registered date of birth is incorrect: the date of birth he provided the House of Lords, and declared “to be true to the best of my knowledge Information and Belief, upon my Honor” was — 9 October 1756. This, to me, seems to be a clear-cut case. It does not matter if Chatham was actually born on the 9th, or 10th, October, or bang on midnight (which is the most likely explanation of what happened): he believed his birthday to fall on 9 October, and that’s good enough for me.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Chatham’s declaration (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

If that was all, this post would be much shorter than it is. But I was so utterly breathtaken by the sheer beauty of the thing laid before me on the desk that I felt moved to purchase a photograph licence, and then to request permission to reproduce the images on this blog (graciously granted).

The Pedigree, on fine vellum as required by the 1767 Standing Order, was bound in tooled leather with fifty others spanning the period 1784-91. I am not kidding when I tell you it took both my strength and that of one of the archivists to wrestle it out of the box and onto the table.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

With silk cords and gold tassels (Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42)

And truly, these photographs do not do it justice. The whole thing — every one of the fifty-one pedigrees in the box — was painted and written by hand. (They cost £20 to draw up, not an inconsiderable sum.) There was shiny gold leaf. There was calligraphy. There was — beauty. There is no other word for it.

Here is Chatham’s crest, complete with Garter.

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

The photograph does not really show the gold leaf on the Earl’s coronet and Garter, which frankly elevated this from “gorgeous” to “stunning”, in my opinion.

But what totally melted me was the combined Chatham/Townshend crest to represent any future offspring of Chatham’s marriage to Mary Elizabeth Townshend (there wouldn’t be any, of course, but since Mary was only 28 in March 1791, nobody could have known that):

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

Courtesy of Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42

The other Pedigrees in the book were equally beautiful, but as this was the one I wanted to see, I spent a good long while examining it and just drinking it in. I do not think I have been so entranced by a historical document for a long time.

Beautiful — just beautiful. I’m so glad I’m able to share it.

References

The Earl of Chatham’s Pedigree (endorsed 11 May 1791) is in the Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/22/1/3 f 42. All photographs used here were taken by me and reproduced with kind permission of the Parliamentary Archives.

[1] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England III, 11th edn (London, 1791), pp. 105-6

[2] John Palmer, The Practice in the House of Lords of Appeals, Writs of Error, and Claims of Peerage … (London, 1830), pp. 341-3

Sherry, please: the contents of the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s cellars

One thing’s for sure about the Pitts: they liked a drink or six. It started with Pitt the Elder, and got worse with the next generation. The Younger Pitt was famous for knocking back several bottles a day (although said bottles were, obviously, smaller then than they are now… still). The 2nd Earl of Chatham’s drinking habits are less obvious, but there were telling habits of his being, to use an appropriately nautical expression, “three sheets to the wind” during office hours while First Lord of the Admiralty.

While Governor of Gibraltar he was famous for his hospitality, and it seems he acquired a taste for Spanish wines while there. (It seems appropriate that one of Gibaltar’s biggest modern wine distributors trades from offices in the “Chatham Counterguard”.) When Chatham died in September 1835, his executors brought in a high-society wine merchant, Charles Bertram, of 162 New Bond Street, to value the late Lord Chatham’s cellars in Charles Street.

This is what Bertram found:

Chatham's cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

Chatham’s cellars, from National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 78, 147

I should say right off that I am no wine expert myself. Far from it — I’m virtually teetotal and have been for fifteen years. However, just a glance at this list tells me two things: first, that Chatham had a lot of wine in his cellar for a nearly-eighty-year-old widower, and second, that he really, really, really did not care for French booze.

I think it’s fair to say Chatham had a sweet tooth. Most of the wine in his cellar seems to have been the variety served up as an aperitif or dessert wine. Sherry seems to account for the majority of it, in the largest quantities (sixteen dozen bottles, plus eight, of “Sherry Cadoza”, whatever that is — it seems to have something to do with the kind of cask, but I would be grateful if anyone could explain further).

One variety in Chatham’s cellars, Haurie, had a sterling pedigree: the Haurie brand claimed to be the oldest exporters of sherry, having been founded during the War of the Spanish Succession. 19th century wine specialist Henry Vizetelly described Haurie sherry as a wine “over which Steele may have become more light-hearted, Swift more morose, Bolingbroke more eloquent, and Addison more didactic”. It probably already had a high reputation by the time Chatham acquired his eighteen bottles, but twenty years after his death Haurie sherry brought back four first-class medals from the Jerez Exhibition.

In addition to sherry, Chatham also had a great deal of Madeira. Much of this seems to have been received as a gift from other people (“Sir J. Bouten”, Lord Melville, Sir Andrew Hammond — an old friend from Chatham’s days at the Admiralty — and Lord Powis, the son of the famous Clive of India). Possibly it was a case of the following:

Lord Powis: Lord Chatham, I’ve brought you a gift.

Chatham: More Madeira. How kind.

Powis: I know how much you like it.

Chatham: Can’t you just bring me sherry next time?

So far, so sweet (although some of the sherry, I guess, might have been of the dry variety). But I suspect very little of it was, given most of the rest of the cellars’ contents was pretty sweet too. Chatham certainly favoured the sweeter varieties of Madeira: “Malmsey”, for example, described in 1858 as “a luscious sweet wine … used principally as a liqueur, or at dessert”. (Malmsey wine was described by the same source as being “a strong astringent, and used against dysentery”, although I suspect Chatham did not really use it for medicinal purposes.)

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He also, however, seems to have been partial to Sercial, an “exceedingly rare” variety of Madeira described by Vizetelly as “somewhat spiritous” and known by Portuguese locals as “the dog strangler”. One source from the 1840s was, however, more appreciative: “This fabulous nectar, with its mellifluous flavour, has the pungent aroma of a posy of sweet-smelling flowers.” It seems this one is best left in the bottle for ten years or so. Possibly Chatham brought it back from Gibraltar with him, along with the three bottles of “Campanario” (another variety of Madeira from the west cliffs of the island near Funchal), although the age of the wines is not mentioned.

One wine he definitely did bring back from Gibraltar was the “Paxarete”, or “Pajarete”, a variety of sherry made in the Jerez region of Spain. This would, in 1835, have been at least ten years old, and maybe Chatham was saving it for a special occasion. Paxarete, again, was exceedingly sweet, exceedingly strong, and exceedingly expensive, although one website described it as “considered more of a ladies’ drink” in early 19th century Britain. I suspect Chatham would have disagreed.

So far Chatham’s cellars can be summarised as: sweet, and Spanish (or Portuguese). (The presence of “Malaga wine”, another super-sweet fortified Spanish wine, bears out this hypothesis.) There were some exceptions, however. Chatham had fifteen dozen pints of Constantia, a South African (!) wine from near Cape Town — unfortified, it seems, but renowned for its strength, and described by The Oxford Companion to Wine as “legendary”. (Napoleon, apparently, also drank it while imprisoned on St Helena.) And of course Chatham had a dozen or so bottles of Sancerre, a modest number of champagne bottles, and claret — surprisingly little of it, though, given his apparent love of it in the 1780s and 1790s.

Only one vintage is dated, however: “Bertram’s claret”, specifically named as “1822”. (He had two dozen bottles of it.) I can’t, however, work out if this was a particularly good year for claret, or whether it was the only wine Chatham had purchased directly from Charles Bertram, who compiled the inventory and may just have recognised his own bottles.

1822ricketts

Apart from wine, Chatham had a few bottles of liqueur: “Noyau”, a crème liqueur made from apricot (or peach) kernels (hence its name). Chatham had both varieties in his cellar: the clear (“blanc”, or white) and the “pink”. One magazine from the 1830s described it as “the queen of liqueurs”, although it vastly preferred the white to the pink — which was in any case coloured, generally with cochineal. Chatham apparently agreed, as he had nearly twice as much white Noyau as he did pink.

Apparently Noyeau tastes similar to amaretto, although I have had neither so cannot comment. It is also, apparently, dangerous to drink elderly Noyeau, as apricot kernels degrade into cyanide. I’m fairly sure Chatham died from natural causes, but now I’m wondering.

Apart from “Cadoza sherry”, the only other item in Chatham’s cellars I have not been able to identify is the mysterious “Pardarolli”. Possibly it was another liqueur, but I cannot be certain. I would be grateful to anyone who is able to inform me what it is.

Bertram estimated the total value of all the bottles in Chatham’s cellars at £559.19.0, which is a sizeable sum, particularly as Chatham’s house itself only brought his executors £3000 (once the mortgage had been cleared). His heirs clearly divided the cellars between them, but they did put a small portion of the wines up to auction at Christie’s on 16 May 1836. They fetched £155.4.10.

References

Bertram’s handlist of Chatham’s cellars can be found at the National Archives, Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/370 f 78 (dated 1 October 1835).

The Christie’s sales catalogue, giving the list of the bottles put to auction and the amounts they fetched, is at PRO 30/8/370 f 147.

Information on Charles Bertram from Richard Ford Manuscripts.

Information on the wines and liqueurs mentioned in this blog was drawn from:

  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Sherry, gleaned in the vineyards and bodegas of the Jerez, Seville, Moguer, & Montilla districts … (London, 1876)
  • Henry Vizetelly, Facts about Port and Madeira (London, 1880)
  • Julia Harding, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford, 2015)
  • The Magazine of Domestic Economy volume II (1837)
  • Robert Hogg, The vegetable kingdom and its products (London, 1858)
  • Richard Mayson, Madeira: the islands and their wines (London, 2015)
  • “Whisky Science: Pajarete and the wine treatment”, 3 March 2013, from here
  • Wikipedia pages on Constantia, Noyau, Malaga wine, and Sancerre