Sir Home Popham and the 2nd Viscount Melville: BL Loan MS 57/108

It’s no secret that Sir Home Popham much owed almost his entire career to Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. As Secretary of State for War and then First Lord of the Admiralty, Melville gave Popham nearly all his early employment (official AND unofficial) and helped him into politics. As useful as Popham undoubtedly was, however, I wonder if Melville occasionally wilted under the weight of the masses of correspondence involved in being Popham’s patron.

Raeburn, Henry; The 1st Viscount Melville; Tate; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-1st-viscount-melville-201350

This was a hereditary attachment, as is clear from Popham’s correspondence (BL Loan MS 57/108) with Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville, also First Lord of the Admiralty. Like his father, Melville Mark 2 clearly knew the versatile naval captain could be of use. Also like his father, Melville must have grown to hate the sight of Popham’s handwriting on the vast number of (probably very, very fat) letters that came in, sometimes on a thrice-daily basis.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Most of BL Loan MS 57/108 dates from 1812, when Popham was off the north coast of Spain, tasked with liaising with the local guerrillas and trying to tie down as many French troops as possible to take the heat off Lord Wellington and his British army. It was all business, of course, but that never stopped Popham being Popham. Some of the correspondence, indeed, is absolutely tip-top Peak Popham. I summarise it here.

No. 17: 17 May

Popham: HelloooooOOOOOOooooo.

Melville: Hi.

Popham: Thank you SO much for this appointment to the north coast of Spain, after nearly a year of kicking my heels. I promise I will NOT disappoint you.

Melville: You’re welcome. My father said you were a useful man.

Popham: May I take this occasion to report that the flour used by the Mediterranean fleet is REALLY bad? I have some ideas for how to improve your supply from Tangiers, based on an idea I had while in South America. I’ve worked it up into a slim pamphlet for you. Here it is. [loud WHOOMP] [the walls shake]

Melville: ….. ah yes. My father also said you were a man of … ideas.

Popham [proudly]: Damn straight.

No. 20: 22 June, North Coast of Spain

Popham: We’re here!

Melville: Excellent news.

Popham: We could do with two or three cutters for dispatches.

Melville: Righto.

Popham: We could also do with some troop frigates. The Diadem‘s kind of heavy.

Melville: Erm. We don’t have —

Popham: Here’s a brief diary of my movements to date, which I have also sent to Mr Croker and Lord Keith. [loud WHOOMP] [the walls shake]

No. 21: 30 June, North Coast of Spain

Popham: I’ve opened communication with the brigands.

Melville: [chokes] The what?

Popham: I’ve worked out there are about 3,000 French troops in the area. The brigands can muster about 1,000.

Melville: These brigands are the guerrillas, yes? The allies you’re meant to be working with?

Popham: We need a brigade of regulars. Maybe a couple of companies of rriflemen, too. And a couple of engineers. Are you sending that troopship I asked for?

Melville: I really don’t —

Popham: Sorry, French are attacking. Laters.

No. 23: 14 July, off Castro

Popham: I’m sending you volume 2 of my diary.

Melville: Thanks.

Popham: … and also volumes 3, 4, and 5.

Melville: I —

Popham: Is my troopship here yet?

Melville: You see, here’s the thing —

Popham: We’d like two troopships now.

Melville: *wilts*

Popham: Oh, and a bomb vessel. And some Congreve rockets, shrapnel shells, hand grenades, 20,000 muskets, a gun brig (a big one — actually, MAKE IT SIX BIG ONES), some brass mortars, and some 24 pounders. You can send them in the three cutters I asked for. Oh, and — Hang on a tick. Enemy spotted. BRB.

No. 24: Same day, a little later

Popham: Sorry about that. Where were we? Oh yes. We also need $2,000 Spanish dollars, a commissary, and lots of gunpowder.

Melville: THERE’S A BLOODY WAR ON, POPHAM

No. 26: 15 July

Popham: … and some light field pieces (6 and 4 pounders), yet ANOTHER troopship, and a pony.

Melville: We can probably manage the pony.

Popham: I was just joking. I don’t actually want a pony. Hahahaha.

No. 27: 15 July

Popham: Those marines you sent us instead of the riflemen.

Melville: Oh, I’m so glad they arrived safely.

Popham: They bloody SUCK. I’ve tried drilling them, but all the drilling on Earth will never do for Major Graham is quite an imbecile and Major Williams has no great a share either of energy or enterprise.

Melville: You really don’t play well with others, do you?

No. 29: 19 July, Castro

Popham: I’m HURT.

Melville: What happened? Are you OK?

Popham: Your Secretary of the Admiralty has given me a public dressing down.

Melville: … Ah. Is this about moving the arms depot from Corunna to Machechico?

Popham: I can assure you that when I was arrested to be tried by court martial on going to South America, I did not feel half so much as I did when I read Mr Croker’s letter. We really need weapons and Machechico is closer than Corunna.

Melville: But Popham, Lord Wellington needs arms too, and Corunna is —

Popham: I feel so BETRAYED. No squadron ever exerted itself more to obtain the approbation of its country than mine. *sobs*

Melville: … there, there…

No. 36: 16 August

Popham: I’ve just got back from Bilbao, which we re-took from the enemy.

Melville: Brilliant.

Popham: I think the severe lecture which I gave the Spanish generals on the subject of military precaution will have a very good effect.

Melville: ….. you didn’t call them brigands, did you?

Popham [proudly]: YES

No. 42: 25 August, off Bilbao

Popham: I’ll make sure the Belle Poule is at Corunna to carry Lord March to England with dispatches.

Melville: Thank you.

Popham: ……… Although if he had come to Santander he would have been in England long ago.

Melville: NO, Popham. We are NOT moving the depot from Corunna.

No. 48: 1 September, Santander

Popham: BLASTED BRIGANDS — IF THEY POSSESSED ONE GRAIN OF MILITARY TALENT WE WOULD HAVE CAPTURED GUETARIA. Why can’t they just LISTEN to me?!

Melville: Maybe because you keep calling them brigands?

No. 50: 15 September, Santander

Popham: I sent Lieutenant MacFarlane to Lord Wellington with dispatches. I hope you realise a messenger from Corunna took 12 days longer than he did, even though he is just a sea officer on horseback.

Melville: Popham. Can we talk about this? Again?

No. 59: 6 October, Santander

Popham: I’ve decided I need to take Santona.

Melville: OK, fine.

Popham: But the French will probably resist us strongly.

Melville: Bear it in mind.

Popham: It is wonderfully strong, too.

Melville: I get it.

Popham: And will require a great deal of battering.

Melville: Do you want to attack Santona or not?!

No. 64: 15 October, Santander

Popham: OMG OMG OMG did you see what Lord Wellington said about me?! ‘If you were not known to be on the coast, the enemy and the Spaniards will be convinced nothing is intended to be done and I shall have upon my hands more of the enemy than I can well manage. O M actual G *SQUEEEEEEEEEE*

Melville: Yes, well done.

Popham: WELLINGTON LOVES ME

Melville: Good boy, Popham.

Popham: I AM INDISPENSABLE TO THE WAR EFFORT

Melville [to secretary]: He’s going to be insufferable now, isn’t he?

No. 65: Later, same day

Popham: ………….. so can I have several thousand greatcoats and pairs of shoes and 10,000 muskets?

Melville: No.

No. 67: 18 October, Santander

Popham: Since I’m so indispensable now, Wellington’s right-hand man and all that, could you make me a commodore? I mean, officially like? With, you know … the salary?

Melville: No.

Popham:

Melville:

Popham: Also, Lieutenant MacFarlane says that Corunna is much too diff —

Melville: DROP IT.

No. 68: Later, same day

Popham: Did I mention Lord Wellington thinks my presence is VITAL TO THE WAR EFFORT?

Melville [glumly]: Not recently.

No. 71: 19 October, Santander

Popham: You know Lord Wellington said —

Melville: I KNOW

No. 72: 21 October, Santander

Popham: I wanted to apologise for the fact the Diadem has been delayed by the weather. Since she’s carrying several hundred letters I wrote since [checks notes] the day before yesterday, this will occasion Your Lordship a trial of patience to get through them all.

Melville: I’m glad you have finally realised it.

Popham: But I feel I have to acquaint you with every occurrence here.

Melville: You really don’t.

Popham: ANYWAY. Have I got news for you.

Melville [runs hand down face]: What now.

Popham: I had an idea.

Melville: An idea.

Popham: You know Lord Wellington said he could take the fortress of Burgos if only he had more guns, but it was impossible to get them to him in time?

Melville: You … haven’t mucked about with the depot again, have you?

Popham: Oh no. I should be sorry to repeat the errors of my early service on this coast by invading the forms of office in asking in an irregular manner for that which I consider necessary.

Melville: [collapses in silent relief]

Popham: SO I DECIDED TO SEND TWO OF MY OWN SHIP’S GUNS UP TO LORD WELLINGTON.

Melville: ………… and what did Lord Wellington say about this, erm … unusual course of action?

Popham: Oh, I didn’t ask him. But I did send him a letter.

Melville [tensely, through gritted teeth]: …. and what did you say?

Popham: ‘Dear Lord Wellington, you know you told me it was impossible to get my ship’s guns to you? Well, Tah-dah!!! Surprise!!!! IT’S NOT!!! Honestly, I had nothing better to do. If you want more, I can send you ten. No, forty. In THIRTY-SIX HOURS. Beat that, messengers from Corunna. Yours, Popham the Indispensable’

No. 73: 23 October

Melville: OK. So, assuming Lord Wellington doesn’t actually kill you, have you decided to attack Santona yet?

Popham: I think I probably will. [short pause] Or maybe I won’t.

Melville: So you haven’t decided, in fact.

Popham: No, not in so many words.

Melville: I have only to repeat my confidence in your judgement and exertions, and my full persuasion that you will not heedlessly hazard the squadron and marines, right? In other words, you won’t do anything rash?

Popham: Rash? Me?! I WOULD NEVER

Melville: Of course not.

Popham: I’M INDISPENSABLE, REMEMBER?

Off the record

Melville: Dad? I know you can’t hear me, being dead and all. But I want to have a word about this Popham chap. I know we didn’t always get on. But honestly, WHAT THE HECK DID I DO TO YOU FOR YOU TO FOIST HIM ON ME?!

*Falls off chair*

Was just scouring the AMAZING Wellington Database at the University of Southampton (http://www.archives.soton.ac.uk/wellington/) to see if I could find any reference to John’s correspondence with the Duke, and found this in regard to the Catholic Emancipation issue in 1829.

It’s from a letter to Lord Camden, 29 March 1829:

“I received your note last night. It is very difficult for me to find a moment to go to LordChatham again who is visible only at the time that others must see me upon business.” (WP1/1007/46)

In other words, John and the Duke of Wellington were only both awake for a short period of the day 😉 (In John’s defence it looks like his health was already poor.)

Incidentally it seems John opposed Catholic Emancipation, which doesn’t surprise me as he seems to have been rather against it in 1800-1801 when Pitt the Younger thought of proposing it. He sent a letter to Camden, 1 April 1829, asking Camden to make use of his proxy vote in the House of Lords in favour of the Bill, but explained “I cannot say that I am quite satisfied of the urgency there was of pressing forward the measure of concession, but I am clear that there is now but one course to be pursued and from my confidence in the Duke of Wellington and my anxious wish to support his government, I shall certainly vote for the bill.” (WP1/1008/8)

This does slightly sadden me as one of the things that initially attracted me to Pitt was his willingness to keep an open mind on the Catholic question (… oh, goodness what a contentious point: watch the reams of emails from outraged historians come rolling in!), but I’ve always known Chatham was the more conservative of the two brothers and after all I can’t judge him by modern standards. (And yet.)

By the way if you haven’t found this database … check it out. It absolutely rocks.

John’s later years, Part 2

So yes, despite my radio silence over the past few days I still have quite a lot of stuff to share that came from my foray into the National Archives last week. Time, then, for my Part 2 of the insight I have gleaned into the later years of the second Earl of Chatham, and it doesn’t make for happy reading.

A cursory Google search will inform you that the Pitt family tree pretty much comes to a . with John’s death in 1835. Pitt the Elder’s late marriage to Lady Hester Grenville was a successful and surprisingly fruitful one, given that both parties were somewhat past their best (Pitt was 46, Hester nearly 34): they had five children in quick succession, Hester in 1755, John in 1756, Harriot in 1758, William in 1759 and James Charles in 1761. Unfortunately five children did not guarantee continuance of the family name. Hester and Harriot both had children (… and died having children), but none of the boys managed to pass on their genes. James died aged 19, William of course died a bachelor, and John’s marriage to Mary Townshend produced no live issue.

The Chatham title was granted in 1766 by letters patent (*I think*— I actually need to check this as I am not 100% sure: mention has been made in papers of “Acts of Parliament” but I think that refers to the pension granted to the title for four lives on Pitt the Elder’s death). It was strictly limited to “issue male of the body of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham”, which meant that Hester and Harriot’s fruitfulness was, from a dynastic point of view, useless. Since John outlived all his siblings he was, automatically, the last Earl of Chatham. In the course of my research I often winced at the entries in the volumes of Burke’s and Debrett’s Peerages when I turned to the section entitled “John, Earl of Chatham” and read the line “Heir Apparent – None”. Until now I had only been able to wonder at what John’s feelings might have been had he, too, read his own entry (which he must have done, on occasion). Now I have an inkling, and bloody hell, poor John.

I mentioned in my previous entry that John came close to death in 1830, aged 73. He seems to have been very ill for a long time, and his thoughts naturally turned to posterity. He had heirs in the grandchildren of his sisters, but he seems to have panicked at the prospect of the title becoming extinct. In the Hoare MSS (a kind of add-on to the Chatham Papers) I found a draft of the following letter (in the Earl of Clarendon’s handwriting) to the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister (PRO 30/70/4 f. 292):

“Charles St., August [blank] 1830

My dear Duke,

I would have asked the favor of an interview, if I had not thought that I shd give your Grace less trouble in addressing you by letter. I can assure you that it is not without extreme reluctance that I trespass at all upon your valuable time; But I am impelled by motives, for which I trust that no one can be more disposed than yourself to make allowance.

My own infirmities lead me to contemplate the no very distant extinction of my name & family; I may perhaps be allowed to say, considering my Fathers & my Brothers brilliant & important services (without any personal or unworthy feelings) that I do so with regret. Had the fortune of my eldest sister’s son, Mr Taylor [one of the main beneficiaries of his will], been adequate to the honor, I might perhaps have solicited your Grace to forward my respectful request to his Majesty to continue in the family the peerage which was granted to my mother [the Barony of Chatham, conferred on Lady Hester Pitt in lieu of her husband in 1761]; but I must not urge such a request. I confine myself to the object of soliciting some provision for my nephew Major Taylor … He is a most intelligent & pleasing young man, & wd not discredit any employment which you might be good enough to give him …

I will only add how deeply I shall feel any attention which you may have the goodness to shew to this application, & I remain ith the sincerest respect & regard,

My dear Duke,

Most truly & faithfully yours,

C.”

Wellington replied promptly enough, wholeheartedly agreeing to meet with Taylor to size him up for office (PRO 30/70/4 f. 293):

“London August 5th 1830

My dear Lord

I have received your Letter; and I am much concerned to hear of your continued Indisposition.

I am convinced that you will give Credit to the Existence of the anxious desire on my Part to forward any wish of Your’s for the promotion of the Interests of any of your Family.

I beg you to send Major Taylor to me in Downing Street on any day that may be convenient to him; in order that I may converse with him on his Views; and conclude with him the best mode of forwarding them. Believe me My dear Lord with the most sincre respect and Regard Your most faithful Servant

Wellington”

Not a word on the subject of the peerage, something John no doubt spotted because he seems to have dropped the subject for a while.

Interestingly, however, the Earl of Clarendon, who copied out the draft of John’s letter to Wellington, seems to have urged John to try again, this time with the highest authority. At PRO 30/70/4 f 295 d there is a draft of an unsent letter to King William IV in which John embroiders on the theme broached in his letter to Wellington:

“I am the last & almost expiring bearer of a Title, associated with the glory of this country, & of a name, borne by one, whose eminence & whose services, (under most trying circumstances for this country & for all Europe), it does not become me to point out. It is with regret that I feel the honors & the memorial of such services expiring with myself, at the same time that I have, in my niece’s [sic] Son, Mr Taylor, a nephew who wd not discredit any mark of your Majesty’s favor, and whose children will be educated in feelings of loyalty to your Majesty, & in principles worthy of their own descent. I cannot presume to say more. I submit myself to your Majesty’s gracious consideration”.

According to Clarendon (the erstwhile John Charles Villiers, close friend of both Lord Chatham and Pitt the Younger), the idea of petitioning to continue the Barony of Chatham came from him (Clarendon to Taylor, 20 March 1836, PRO 30/70/4 f 295e), although clearly John had already approached Wellington with the suggestion. Clarendon stated that only “Ld Chathams extreme illness” prevented further consideration of the subject. Presumably lack of response to repeated hints also discouraged John enough to let the subject drop. Either way the King does not seem to have become involved. Had he done so, would we still have a Lord Chatham to this day?

In conclusion, poor John, who clearly spent his last years dwelling over his failure to continue the family name, and probably also his failure to live up to the family reputation in general. In his attempt to save the title of Chatham from extinction he failed as well. Poor John indeed.