Walcheren 1809: the mystery of the missing memorandum

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The Walcheren Expedition of 1809, which Lord Chatham infamously commanded, was unquestionably a disaster. Although the British managed to take the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland, they failed to get to Antwerp, the ultimate objective, to destroy the fortifications there and the French and Dutch fleet.

Most seriously of all, the army was rendered completely useless by a violent illness known as “Walcheren Fever”, thought to be a combination of malaria, typhoid, typhus and dysentery. Of the 39,219 men sent to the Scheldt River basin, 11,296 were on the sick lists by the time the inquiry was underway. 3,960 were dead. The British Army suffered from the recurring effects of “Walcheren fever” until the end of the war.

Not long after the last soldier had been landed back in Britain in January 1810, the House of Commons formed itself into committee to inquire into whose bright idea it had been to send nearly 40,000 of Britain’s best (i.e., only) troops to a pestilential swamp at the height of the unhealthy season.

Careers were at stake, and nobody wanted to own up. Chatham, the military commander, was nevertheless pretty sure he knew who was most to blame for what had happened. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t him. Contrary to what nearly every historian of the campaign has tried to argue, however, it wasn’t his naval counterpart, Sir Richard Strachan, either.

Chatham wasn’t very successful at fighting accusations of his sloth and incompetence, and he eventually ended up with most of the blame for the campaign’s failure, even if the Walcheren inquiry technically cleared him of wrongdoing. In my opinion, however, one aspect of Chatham’s evidence has been overlooked: his indictment of the Board of Admiralty, under the First Lord, Earl Mulgrave.

Henry Lord Mulgrave

Lord Mulgrave

After the inquiry was over, Chatham wrote a series of memoranda defending his conduct on Walcheren and during the parliamentary proceedings that followed. These memoranda reveal Chatham’s conviction that Mulgrave had been trying to cover up the Admiralty’s role in planning the expedition for months.

By April 1810, when he probably wrote these memoranda, Chatham was as paranoid as it is possible for a man to be. Nor was he the least bit impartial in the matter. And yet there is some evidence that the Admiralty – a highly organised political body, and one with which Chatham (a former First Lord himself) was extremely familiar – did indeed try to conceal evidence from the inquiry.

One very important piece of information was only laid before the inquiry at all on 1 March 1810, and only because Chatham’s testimony had drawn public attention to it. This was a memorandum, written on 19 June 1809 at the Admiralty Office, entitled “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet [Sandvliet] and Fort Lillo”. (Sandfleet, or Sandvliet, being the place where the British Army was meant to land on the continent, nine miles from Antwerp; Lillo being one of the two forts straddling the point at which the Scheldt River narrowed before the dockyards.)

CaptureThe belatedly-published memorandum quoted two naval officers, Sir Home Popham (one of the planners of the expedition) and Captain Robert Plampin, both saying they had both been to Antwerp in the 1790s and thought there would be no problem in landing a large body of men between Lillo and Sandvliet. On that basis, the Opinion made the following statement:

The Board of Admiralty having made inquiry respecting the practicability of effecting a Landing between the point of Sandfleet and Fort Lillo … are prepared … to undertake that the troops shall be conveyed, when the Island of Beveland, including Bathz is in our possession, to the Dyke between Fort Lillo and Sandfleet, and landed, as far as the question of Landing depends on the nature of the place, with relation to the approach to the shore of boats and other vessels capable of receiving troops.[1]

Why was this so mysterious? Because Chatham remembered this memorandum rather differently from the form in which it was published for the inquiry.

According to Chatham, the Cabinet had only approved the expedition in the first place after the Admiralty Board had issued this Opinion as a guarantee that a large fleet could carry twenty thousand men up the West Scheldt and land them at Sandvliet. This was in response to doubts voiced by Chatham himself – doubts formed after discussions with military officers who had been to Sandvliet and told him an army could not be landed there. Since the whole plan hinged on landing at Sandvliet, Chatham rather reasonably told the Cabinet he would not undertake to sanction his own expedition unless the Admiralty could prove the military men wrong: “This last Point I considered as a sine qua non [which] … must be placed beyond all doubt, to warrant the undertaking the enterprize [sic].”[2] Mulgrave’s response was the 19 June memorandum, which circulated through the Cabinet the day after it was drawn up.

Chatham remembered it as being signed by the three professional Lords of the Admiralty. In 1809, these would have been Sir Richard Bickerton, William Domett, and Robert Moorsom.

Chatham’s assertions are to an extent backed up by official correspondence. Following the mid-June cabinet meeting, Castlereagh informed the King of the need to postpone preparing for the expedition until “the practicability of a Landing at Sandfleet [sic] can be assured”. Two days after the circulation of the 19 June Opinion, Castlereagh wrote: “Under the sanction of this opinion … Your Majesty’s confidential servants … feel it their duty humbly to recommend to Your Majesty that the operation should be undertaken”. Castlereagh edited out the line “should the Immediate object be abandon’d”, which suggests that the viability of a Sandvliet landing was indeed the make-or-break feature – to borrow Chatham’s words, the sine qua non – of the expedition going ahead.[3]

All this corroborates Chatham’s account completely, except for one detail. Three copies of the Opinion exist, one in the Castlereagh MSS at PRONI (D3030/3241-3) and two in the National Archives (ADM 3/168). None is signed. The copies of the Opinion that remain are therefore no more than that – an opinion. They were unofficial, and could not be claimed to form the basis of any Cabinet decision to undertake the expedition.

Did Chatham simply misremember the opinion? This is the opinion of Carl Christie, who deals with the 19 June Opinion thoroughly in his excellent thesis on the Walcheren expedition. “The suspicion is that his memory was playing tricks on him”, Christie writes, and concludes that he “misinterpreted the Admiralty opinion”.[4] But Chatham clearly wasn’t the only one who did so, as Castlereagh’s letters to the King show above.

The question, therefore, is whether a signed Opinion ever existed. We only have Chatham’s word for this; but it does seem unlikely that the Cabinet would have made the important decision to proceed with the expedition on the basis of the opinion of two subordinate naval officers. (Popham in particular had a track record of leading British troops into madcap schemes that often went wrong, as the Buenos Aires expedition of 1806 demonstrates).

Castlereagh later played down the importance of the opinion: at the inquiry, when questioned about it, he seemed confused as to which memorandum Chatham had intended to single out, and fudged the issue by saying there was a paper “which I may have seen in circulation, with the names of three [Admiralty] lords attached to it, but I rather imagine that it is the same paper as that which is dated the 9th of June”. But the Admiralty opinion of 9 June 1809 was on a completely different topic, and had also been drawn up prior to the Cabinet meeting to which Chatham referred.[5]

There is, however, one further possibility: that Chatham’s memory was not faulty at all, and that the opinion he saw was different from the printed version. The accusation that the Admiralty later cherry-picked the evidence laid before the Walcheren inquiry to play down its role in the planning, indeed, seems to form the thrust of Chatham’s memorandum. He did not come outright and say so, but he came close when he asserted:

An attempt was made in the course of the Enquiry, to question the existence of this Document, and they [the Admiralty] never would produce it, but they did not venture to call the Sea Lords [to give evidence], and with them the question whether they had not signed such a Paper and delivered to Lord Mulgrave, to be shewn to ye Cabinet.[6]

So where is the signed version of the Opinion the Admiralty failed to produce? Did it ever exist? Castlereagh’s evidence, vague as it was, certainly suggests that it did. Chatham was certainly convinced the Admiralty was covering its back at his expense. Was he right?

We will probably never know.

References

[1] Parliamentary Papers 1810 (89), “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet and Fort Lillo”

[2] Memorandum by Chatham, PRO 30/8/260 f. 100

[3] Castlereagh to the King, draft, 14 June 1809, PRONI Castlereagh MSS D3030/3137. The 15 June copy that was sent is printed in Aspinall V, 298

[4] Carl A. Christie, “The Walcheren Expedition of 1809” (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975), pp. 126, 131

[5] Testimony of Lord Castlereagh, 13 March 1810, Parliamentary Debates XV, Appendix 5xxii-iv

[6] Memorandum by Chatham, undated, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/260 f 100

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Lord Chatham returns to Gibraltar!

And he’s not entirely happy about it (although I reckon he looks quite resigned to his fate!).

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As I explain in The Late Lord, Chatham wasn’t hugely fond of Gibraltar. He was Governor from 1820 till his death, but served there in person between 1821 and 1825, and couldn’t wait to leave the place. See pp. 186-7:

The much-vaunted beauties of Gibraltar could not outweigh his conviction that he was ‘chained to ye Rock, instead … of being among my friends.’ … Chatham never forgot he was the master of a godforsaken rock half-sunk into the sea, about five square miles in size. His private letters home reeked of claustrophobia and intense homesickness, coloured with the depression he had not managed to shake off since his wife’s death.

Suit yourself, Lord C… I loved Gibraltar when I went there on my research trip.

Photo by a friend of mine, who is actually on the spot (lucky thing).

“Your Lordship does not consider me as a Friend”: Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan, January 1810

One of the most infamous aspects of the Walcheren Campaign, apart of course from the spectacular scale of the sickness that swept through the British Army and helped hasten the campaign’s end, was the complete breakdown of working relations between the military and naval commanders. Walcheren had been designed as an amphibious, or “combined”, operation. Close cooperation between Lord Chatham, the military Commander of the Forces, and Sir Richard Strachan, the naval commander, was vital for success. The Secretary of State for War, Castlereagh, had sent Chatham off with the hope “that the utmost Spirit of Concert and Harmony will prevail … between the respective Services”.[1]

 

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Lord Chatham, engraved by Charles Turner (1809)

This harmony was already in jeopardy before the expedition had even sailed, and on 27 July Chatham was already having to “assure” his worried cabinet colleagues “that I have had on all occasions the most unreserved and confidential intercourse with Sir Richard Strachan, who is a man I particularly like, and as far, as I can judge, I should say that we are upon ye most friendly and cordial footing possible”.[2] The troubled course of the campaign, during which military requirements and naval realities clashed repeatedly, did nothing to reconcile the two men. By the time the campaign was suspended on 27 August 1809, Chatham and Strachan were barely speaking.

Strachan and Chatham were polar opposites in terms of character. Much has been made of Strachan’s famed impulsiveness (he was known as “Mad Dick”) and Chatham’s notorious lethargy, and that didn’t help, but a lot of the problems between the two men stemmed to the difficulties they had in communicating. Chatham was tight-lipped and taciturn; he preferred not to put important things down on paper, and was most comfortable in a face-to-face situation. Strachan, to judge from his confused, repetitive letters, was simply incapable of getting his thoughts and ideas across in a coherent manner. The problem was the necessities of the campaign kept the two men separate, and Strachan was often very difficult to track down. Miscommunication gave rise to friction, and this eventually became outright dislike.

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Sir Richard Strachan (detail from “The Grand Duke of Middleburg”, caricature, 1809)

The last straw came on 27 August 1809, the day Chatham decided to suspend the campaign. Strachan wrote a letter to the Admiralty which he claimed should have remained private, but which was published (in extract) in the London Gazette on 3 September. In the letter he appeared to claim that he had urged not to suspend the campaign in the face of Chatham’s stubborn refusal to listen. The letter had an undeniable impact on public opinion in Britain, and from the moment Chatham heard about the existence of this letter, he and Strachan found themselves “in a state of Hostility”.[3]

This is why I was so surprised to find the following letter in the Chatham Papers at the National Archives. It was written by Andrew Snape Hamond, an old colleague and friend from Chatham’s days as First Lord of the Admiralty. On 26 January 1810 the Commons had voted to form a committee of the whole House to inquiry into the planning and conduct of the Walcheren Expedition. Both Chatham and Strachan were likely to come out badly from such an inquiry, and Strachan clearly made one last attempt to patch things up and make common cause, using Hamond as an intermediary.

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Sir Andrew Snape Hamond

Hamond’s letter to Chatham is as follows:

Fitzroy Square, Sunday

28th Jany. 1810

Dear Lord Chatham

I wish very much to see you, to communicate what has passed between Sir Richard Strachan & myself. In short he has an apprehension that your Lordship does not consider him as a Friend, but has authorized me to assure you that he is perfectly so, and that he will most readyly [sic] wait upon you whenever you send to him. He lives at Blakes Hotel Jermyn St.

Any time tomorrow that it might be convenient for your Lordship to see me, I will wait upon you, in the mean time I beg leave to assure that I ever am

Yr Lordship’s most faithful

& sincerely attached

Friend

A.S. Hammond [4]

The letter shows a great deal about Strachan’s character. He was clearly very brave, expressing himself ready to meet face to face with Chatham and make his explanations. He must also have been generous and open-hearted: few people would have made such a move under the same circumstances. But he was also obviously not the brightest spark, or he would have realised that the time for explanations were long past.

At any rate, he had completely misread Chatham’s own character. Chatham was stinging from the buffeting he had received over the last four months from the newspapers. A common theme of these newspaper articles was to compare Chatham’s attitude to the suspension of the Walcheren campaign with that of Strachan’s as put across in the 27 August extract. By the end of January 1810, Chatham was under no illusions: his reputation and career were at stake, and Strachan had been strongly instrumental in undermining him.

Chatham replied to Hamond:

Private: Hill Street, Jan. 28th 1810

My Dear Sir

I shall be extremely happy to see you to morrow, a little after twelve o’clock, if that hour is perfectly convenient to you. I shall be particularly glad to know what may have passed between you and Sir Richard Strachan, as I can not disguise from you, that I have certainly considered him (tho’ utterly at a loss to guess the reason) as very unfriendly to me. His publick letter from Batz [of 27 August 1809], which to this moment remains unexplained, and which, as you know, has been the foundation of all the clamour* raised against me in ye Country, as well as the language he has been reported to me to have held since is return has led me, to form this opinion. As to the latter part he may perhaps have been misrepresented and I shou’d have great pleasure in finding it so. You and I, as old Friends can talk this business over, but what I assure you  I am most anxious about is the apprehension that any difference on the present occasion between myself and the Admiral, may lead to any unpleasant feelings between [the] two Services, to both of which, you well know my sincere attachment.

Believe me

My Dear Sir

Always Most Truly Yours

Chatham [5]

*Chatham initially wrote “abuse”.

Chatham’s response to Hamond could not have been clearer had he written “No, sod off” across the page in three-inch-tall red letters. Chatham certainly never made any attempt to meet with Strachan, and the course of the inquiry — and Chatham’s attempts to defend himself — showed Strachan had been right to suspect the Earl did “not consider him as a Friend”.

References

[1] Lord Castlereagh to Chatham, 16 July 1809, PRONI D3030/3175

[2] Chatham to Lord Camden, 27 July 1809, Kent Heritage Centre U840 C86/5/1

[3] Sir Robert Brownrigg to Colonel J.W. Gordon, 8 September 1809, BL Add MSS 49505 f 69

[4] A.S. Hamond to Chatham, 28 January 1810, TNA PRO 30/8/367 f 1

[5] Chatham to A.S. Hamond, 28 January 1810, TNA PRO 30/8/364 f 16

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:

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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:

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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