24 September 1835: Death of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

24 September is the anniversary of the death of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, subject of my book The Late Lord. I have already written a post about his death and funeral, but I wanted to mark the occasion again with a new post.

Chatham (or, as I have started referring to him on social media, “Johnboy”) was two weeks off his 79th birthday when he died. He’d become increasingly frail in his last years. Famously, his father (William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham) had been felled by a stroke in the House of Lords in 1778; Johnboy went the same way, although rather less spectacularly. Like his father, he’d had a few warm-up events in recent years: one in 1831 nearly killed him (people started fighting over his sinecures, not realising he was not, in fact, dead yet). The effects of the stroke on his faculties can be most clearly seen from his handwriting, which went from confident to remarkably shaky in the space of a few months.

Lord Chatham’s writing before his stroke, 21 January 1831, Huntington Library Townshend MSS, TD288
Lord Chatham’s writing after his stroke, 1 January 1832, Huntington Library Townshend MSS TD287

I didn’t manage to find any specific details about his last illness, but a lot of it can be deduced from a letter written to one of Chatham’s two heirs (William Stanhope Taylor, his great-nephew) by John Henry, Duke of Rutland. Rutland was the son of one of Chatham’s closest friends (the 4th Duke of Rutland, who had died in 1787): he was also probably the closest thing Chatham had to a son of his own. It sounds as though William Stanhope Taylor had some trouble tracking Rutland down, as Rutland was writing on 2 October 1835, the day before Chatham’s funeral. I referred to the letter in The Late Lord, but wanted to quote it in full because it really is the closest thing to a family letter I could have found:

Sir

Your Letter to me is on a most painful & distressing Subject, but I cannot help acknowledging your attention in favouring me with it. My Acquaintance with poor Lord Chatham was of longer Standing than any of which I am in the Enjoyment, and I should have been of all men the most ungrateful, if I had not loved him most sincerely, for I do not believe he has left behind him one single Person, who surpassed him in Attachment to my Family & to myself.

Every detail which you give of the last Days of his valuable Life, is to me most interesting. I sat with Lord Chatham for a short time on the day before I left London, & though he then complained of being ill, yet I did not perceive any Change in him, to occasion any Alarm or uneasiness to his Friends. It is a Consolation to find that he did not suffer much during the few Days of his last Seizure. I regret that I had not known till to day, that the Funeral is to take place tomorrow; for I am prevented from the capability of making Arrangements to enable me, to shew by attendance at the last mournful Ceremony, the extent of my Respect & Affection towards my poor deceased Friend.

I am very much gratified by the Intelligence that the Remains of poor Lord Chatham are to be deposited with those of his Father and Brother.

I have the Honor to be

Sir

Your very Faithful Servant Rutland

John, 5th Duke of Rutland to William Stanhope Taylor, The National Archives PRO 30/70/6 f. 429

Thus ended a family connection between the Pitt and Manners families lasting about 60 years.

“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 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!

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…

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:

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.

10 October 1756: birth of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

YES, 10 October. Yes. YES. No, it’s not a typo. Yes, I realise I am flying in the face of all other published sources, except Wikipedia (and there’s a good reason for that).

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley's "The Death of the Earl of Chatham" (1779)

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in John Singleton Copley’s “The Death of the Earl of Chatham” (1779)

Most people, when writing about someone less visible in the historical record, are at least able to say “Well, at least I know when he/she was born/died!” Unfortunately, my biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham pretty much opens with a page-long footnote explaining why I have plumped for 10 October 1756 as his date of birth, and not the usually-recorded 9 October. (Some sources say 10 September, but, to misquote Monty Python, that’s right out.)

As far as I can see, there is one main reason why the sources focus on 9 October as Chatham’s birthday. It is a letter written by Pitt the Elder to Pitt the Younger on 9 October 1773, which opens with the following lines: “Thursday’s post brought us no letter from the dear traveller [Pitt was on his way to Cambridge]: we trust this day will prove more satisfactory. It is the happy day that gave us your brother…” [Chatham Correspondence IV, 290]

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

William Pitt the Elder by William Hoare

Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? Pitt the Elder should have known the date of birth of his own son, no?

Except we find Pitt the Elder writing to his brother-in-law, George Grenville, on 10 October 1756: “Dear Grenville, Lady Hester is as well as can be in her situation, after being delivered of a son this morning.” [Grenville Papers I, 173]

And also to his nephew, Thomas Pitt, later Lord Camelford, also on 10 October 1756: “Lady Hester was safely delivered this morning of a son.” [Letters written by Lord Chatham to his nephew Thomas Pitt (1804), p. 97]

Not to mention the fact that Chatham’s baptismal record in the parish register, entered on 7 November 1756, notes his date of birth as 10 October.

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham's baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

John, 2nd Earl of Chatham’s baptismal record, Hayes, Kent

So what happened? Why the discrepancy? I suppose the most likely possibility is that everything went so quickly (and Chatham’s birth was, apparently, very quick) that nobody troubled to take accurate note of his time of birth. Maybe the clocks in the room were fast. Maybe the midwife (or man midwife, as Chatham was delivered by William Hunter) made a mistake.

Clearly the family celebrated Chatham’s birthday on 9 October, although there could have been other reasons for this. In 1773, 10 October fell on a Sunday: possibly the family decided to celebrate a day early for that reason. I personally think this unlikely, however, as Pitt the Elder specifically says “THIS is the happy day that gave us your brother”. He could have misdated his letter, but this is unlikely, particularly as his son William replied a few days later making reference to “the rejoicings on the happy ninth of October”.

It seems most likely, therefore, that the family for some reason changed their minds about Chatham’s birthday and started celebrating it on 9 October. But he would not be the only 18th century figure surrounded with such confusion — the Duke of Wellington’s precise birthdate, for example, is also disputed.

This doesn’t make my task as biographer any easier, but I’ve plumped for 10 October rather than 9 October because Chatham’s baptismal record suggests that date. The entry was added on 7 November, nearly a full month after Chatham’s birth, so it seems most likely to me that any changes of mind occurred some time after his birth. I’ve therefore gone with the on-the-spot account, and shaved a day off the 2nd Lord Chatham’s age.

You may disagree with me, but I’m sticking to my guns.

Lord Chatham in Gibraltar — the FIRST time

Still in Gibraltar. This morning I went up the Rock in a cable car (expensive but worth it) and sat on a bench overlooking the bay to write my chapter dealing with the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s active Governorship here, 1821-5. It was bliss, and I was completely untroubled by monkeys, lizards, seagulls, &c &c, which was a small mercy as I was surrounded by all the above. Nope, it was just me, my laptop, and John Chatham for three amazing hours.

10930895_10101325764873730_3044804752120700857_n

On my way down (clutching my laptop) I spotted an offroad track which was advertised as a walking route. In a moment of utter lunacy, I decided to take it. For a while, it was pretty nice, if narrow and with a deceptively deep drop on my right:

11390268_10101325764958560_6356821700362694301_n

About half an hour after I took this shot, however, the path took me round private property (steep uphill climb across limestone shards? Why not!) and then back down again (steep downhill across limestone shards? Even better!). At this stage the path just came to a . Thankfully I could see the paved road about ten metres below me, but somehow I had to get down to it. So I climbed. Well, you know, I had no alternative (other than walking back the way I came for 45 minutes … er no, thank you, and yes, I still had my laptop with me).

So there I was sliding down the side of the Rock, totally channelling my inner James Bond (well, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was trespassing on MoD property…) and it occurred to me to wonder whether the 2nd Earl of Chatham ever did anything like this while he was in Gibraltar. But no, of course not. He was in his late 60s.

Which was the inconvenient moment at which it hit me. He was in Gibraltar in the 1770s too. As aide-de-camp to General Robert Boyd, Sir George Elliott’s Lieutenant Governor.

How the heck could I have forgotten that?!

And, while I was clinging to the side of the rockface by my fingernails (OK yes, that’s a slight exaggeration … but not much), I had a flashback of walking past a shelf at the Gibraltar National Archives on Tuesday full of volumes of official Diaries kept by the Governor’s secretary from the early 1770s to about 1810. I’d passed it by thinking “Ooh how nice, too early”, but … what if John was mentioned?

I survived my descent, of course (I did say I exaggerated a bit) and, as it was only three o’clock, repaired as fast as I could to the Archives. I’m not 100% sure what they thought when I turned up all dusty, disshevelled and slightly sunburnt, but within a few minutes I had the 1778 and 1779 diaries open before me on the table.

Within about ten minutes I startled everyone in the room with my cry of triumph.

governors_diary_1778_chatham_arrives_snippet

Do you see what I see? (This is the entry for 7 July 1778). The entry goes on to list the accompanying convoy for about three pages, in some serious detail. But the relevant bit is this: “Arrived from England His Majesty’s Ship Romulus of 44 guns and 280 men, commanded by Capn. Gayton in 23 days from Spithead. Passengers, Lieut: General Boyd, Colonel Green, Colonel Ross, Lord Chatham and Mr Buckeridge, Lieutenants in the 39th Regt.”

William Buckeridge, incidentally, was Boyd’s other ADC.

I knew Chatham had arrived in Gibraltar early July 1778, but now I had a date — and also a ship, a departure point, and a journey length. 😀 But this is the mysterious bit. 23 days’ journey means the Romulus left Spithead on or about the 15 June 1778. So why did Chatham not attend his father’s funeral on the 8th? He must have had a cast-iron reason, otherwise people would have talked, but why not? I know the convoy was all embarked and ready to leave by mid-May: perhaps the ships were delayed by adverse winds? I find it hard to believe Chatham would have been refused permission to attend the funeral if it had been possible for him to go. And I find it even harder to believe he would not have wanted to go. Pageantry was John’s forté, and he did it very well.

Be that as it may, there was more. All letters sent from the garrison with the official Governor’s packet were recorded, and their recipients. So I know Chatham was writing home on 16 and 20 July, and also on 8 and 12 October:

governors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_02_detailgovernors_diary_1778_chatham_sends_letters_03

On the left: letters listed to Mrs Mary Pitt, Lady Mahon (Chatham’s eldest sister), Thomas Pitt, and the Countess of Chatham; on the right, letters to the Hon. Mr Pitt, Pembroke Hall, the Marquis of Granby (later the 4th Duke of Rutland, Chatham’s best bud), and Lady Harriot Pitt, Chatham’s younger sister.

As you will know from previous posts, Chatham left Gibraltar in early 1779 to go back to Britain. I was a bit unsure about whether he left in February or March, and how much leave he was granted, but now I know the answer: he left on 2 March, and his leave was six months. (Within that period the siege had started, and he transferred to another regiment, so the next time he returned to Gibraltar was as Governor in 1821.)

governors_diary_1778_chatham_leave_detail

Apologies for the quality of the above photo — the 1779 Diary is in pretty darn poor nick — but it reads “Leave of Absence for 6 months granted Earl of Chatham. Travelling Pass E. Chatham, Honble. Captain Conway and Lieutenant Colt to go to Madrid, 3 Months; also Permit for said Gentlemen to pass to Cadiz, to morrow, with 3 Servants and Baggage.” It was issued on 1 March 1779.

I am so, so chuffed by this, you have no idea. It was totally worth nearly falling down the Rock for.

__________

References

All material from the Governor’s Diaries, March – November 1778 and 1778 – 1782, Gibraltar National Archives

190 years ago yesterday: Lord Chatham leaves Gibraltar

I am currently in Gibraltar, having the time of my life visiting the archives and chasing monkeys. I was wandering about the Upper Rock, taking in the Straits and very much enjoying the sun and the sights, when something struck me. It has been almost exactly 190 years since the 2nd Earl of Chatham — the man I am here to research — left Gibraltar.

Streets of Gibraltar

Chatham succeeded the Duke of Kent as Governor of Gibraltar in January 1820. I suspect he at first had very little intention of ever coming out (the Duke of Kent, after all, had been an absentee governor since his disastrous attempt to serve in person resulted in several mutinies) but was only forced into it by the fact the House of Commons started discussing expensive sinecures, and Chatham’s governorship came up. Ministers were all “Oh yes, Chatham has every intention of going out there”, probably all while wrestling Chatham bodily onto the boat.

Chatham was meant to have gone out in May 1821, but was held up by three things: 1) his wife’s death on 21 May; 2) King George IV’s visit to Ireland, which snarled up all available frigates; and 3) his own reluctance. He really did not want to go, and it did not help that he suffered from profound depression for months after his wife’s death. Nevertheless, as soon as all ships had returned from Ireland and he had run out of excuses, Chatham boarded the Active frigate at the end of October 1821 and arrived in Gibraltar on 15 November. I can’t imagine it was a pleasant trip, although, at 19 days, it was relatively short.

Having spent the day perusing the Gibraltar Chronicle with great care, I can now say a little bit more about what Chatham did in Gibraltar, but for the details you’ll have to wait till my book comes out next September. Suffice to say he never warmed to the place, possibly not helped by the fact Lord Maryborough, who had taken over Chatham’s old rented house of Abington, kept writing to tell Chatham about the abundance of game on the estate and what wonderful hunts he was missing. Chatham’s weak health did not get on with the climate, and by early 1825 his health was pretty much shattered.

He wrote for permission to return to England, which was granted. He stayed long enough to lay the foundation stone of the church that would become the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on 1 June, then high-tailed it with all the speed his weakened frame could muster.

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar

The Gibraltar Chronicle recorded Chatham’s departure in its 8 June edition. Chatham’s last day was a sunny, clear 23 degree day:

“Yesterday, at 12 o’clock, His Excellency General the Earl of Chatham, Governor of this Fortress, embarked on board HM Frigate Tribune, Capt. Guion, returning to England on leave of absence.

The streets from the Convent to Ragged-Staff [Wharf] were lined by the Troops composing the Garrison; and His Excellency, being received at the Convent Gate by a Guard of Honor from the 43rd Light Infantry, proceeded, accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, General Sir George Don, and the Officers of the Military and Civil Departments. On arriving at Ragged-Staff, His Excellency was received by another Guard of Honor furnished by the 94th Regiment, and, at the moment of stepping into the Barge, was saluted with 19 Guns from the Garrison, which were repeated by the Frigate on His Excellency’s arrival on board.

The Tribune shortly after got under weigh, and sailed into the Straits with a light breeze at East.”[1]

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

Ragged Staff Gates, Gibraltar (Wikimedia Commons)

In fact Chatham’s “leave of absence” was permanent, and he never returned. As late as 1829 there was talk that he might well come back, but, although Chatham recovered to a degree after returning to England, his health had been permanently damaged. He was, after all, nearly 69 in June 1825. He was seriously ill in 1829, and nearly died in 1831. Even so, when the Reform Bill came before Parliament in 1831, Chatham was terrified that he — as an opponent of reform — might be sent off to Gibraltar to prevent him causing trouble in the Lords: “Lord Chatham has the fear before his eyes of being ordered off to reside upon his government”.[2]

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

Grand Casemates Gate, 1824

So it was that when Chatham died on 24 September 1835, he had been Governor of Gibraltar for fifteen and a half years, but only served there for four. Still, he did rather better than a number of Gibraltar histories imply (one I’ve seen flat out denied he ever went out there) and better than the Duke of Kent. At least there were no mutinies!

References

[1] Gibraltar Chronicle, 8 June 1825

[2] Duke of Buckingham to the Duke of Wellington, 27 September 1831, Southampton University Wellington MSS WP1/1196/18

Lord Chatham, Knight of the Garter

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit St George’s Chapel Archives at Windsor Castle, where I spent an instructive morning perusing the Garter Registers and chasing Lord Chatham’s officially recorded movements as a Knight of the Garter.

Chatham was elected a Knight of the Garter in December 1790, as I explain in my guest post for English Historical Fiction Authors on the Order of the Garter during the reign of George III. The Garter should have gone to his brother Pitt the Younger, but Pitt wrote to persuade the King to give it to Chatham instead.

One of the most notable features of Chatham’s character was his love of pomp and status, so I can imagine he was thrilled to be admitted to Britain’s oldest and most prestigious Order. Although he was invested with the Garter in December 1790, he was not fully “installed” (for more on the distinction between the two ceremonies see my EHFA post) until May 1801, when the King dispensed with the full ceremonies for twenty-three uninstalled Knights.

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

Dispensation installing Chatham as a Knight Companion of the Garter (29 May 1801) (PRO 30/8/371)

After his “installation”, Chatham was finally permitted to enjoy the full privileges of the Order. Before, he had only been allowed to wear the ribbon and Lesser George: now he was allowed to wear the Star, or “Glory”, and surround his crest with the Garter insignia. He was allowed to attend Garter Chapters, and was allotted a stall in the quire of St George’s Chapel, although I am informed this would have changed according to Chatham’s seniority in the order (in other words, every time a senior knight died, Chatham’s stall would move one step closer to the Sovereign’s).

He was also allowed to affix a stall plate to the back of the stall, listing his “achievements”. I have been permitted to see Chatham’s plate, although not to photograph it, but it was put up shortly after his installation in May 1801 since it records him as being a Major-General and Lord President of the Council. The achievement is in French: “le noble et très puissant Jean, Comte de Chatham”.

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham's was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

A later Garter Stall Plate (1891); Chatham’s was similar (Wikimedia Commons)

Many Knights of the Garter died without being installed, including Chatham’s good friend the Duke of Rutland, who was invested in 1783 and died in 1787. Rutland, though, was an exception to the rule: when he was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, the King gave him permission to use the Garter Insignia and wear the Star as though he had been fully installed.[1]

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from "The Visitants' Guide to Windsor Castle" (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

Plan of the stalls of the Knights of the Garter as they stood in 1828 , from “The Visitants’ Guide to Windsor Castle” (thanks to regencyhistory.net for this)

My purpose in consulting the Garter Registers was to track Chatham’s attendance record as a KG at Chapters and official Dinners. By statute all Chapters were recorded in the official Registers, and all attendees’ names were noted down. I had been informed Chatham’s attendance was patchy: I wanted to see whether this was true. I must admit I was surprised to hear Chatham wasn’t a frequent attender. Despite his reputation for laziness, Chatham was very proud of his Garter.

I can now report that Chatham’s attendance was not as bad as it looks. He was elected to the Order at Chapter XV, held at St James’s Palace on Wednesday, 15 December 1790, at the same time as the Duke of Saxe-Gotha and the Duke of Leeds. Present at this Chapter were the King, the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Gloucester and York, and the Marquis of Stafford, along with the Prelate, Chancellor, and Registrar of the Order (the Officers), and Garter King of Arms and Black Rod.[2] Members of the Royal Family seem to have been keen attenders of the Chapters, much as one would expect (and a Chapter could not be held without the Sovereign or his representative, so he is pretty much the only person with a 100% attendance record). But only fully installed members of the Order could attend Chapters, so Chatham’s name does not appear again until Chapter XXIII, the first Chapter after his installation, held on 25 November 1803 at St James’s Palace.

Up until then, Chapters had been thinly attended (remember, only fully installed members could attend), and often only members of the Royal Family turned up. But the 1803 Chapter was rather different. The King was present, and the Dukes of Gloucester, York, Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, but nine Knights Companion turned up too: apart from Chatham, the Dukes of Richmond, Portland and Roxburgh were there, as well as Lords Cornwallis, Salisbury, Westmorland, Spencer, and Camden. Presumably they needed a rather bigger room than they had been accustomed to using.[3]

After that, Chatham attended quite regularly. He was at Chapters XXIV, XXV and XXVII (17 Jan 1805, 27 May 1805, and 18 July 1807), and the Installation of April 1805. He missed Chapter XXVI, but since that took place on 22 March 1806 I’ll give him a break: his brother hadn’t even been dead two months, and his wife was still extremely unwell. He was not at Chapter XXVIII, on 3 March 1810, but I rather think he was otherwise engaged appearing at parliamentary enquiries and trying not to be impeached after Walcheren. Interestingly, though, he did attend the St George’s Day Dinner at Carlton House in April 1810. Given his name was mud at this stage, I cannot help wondering if it was a bit of a defiant gesture at the government: “Yah, yah, yah, I still enjoy royal favour.” Of course, maybe he just needed a bit of fun.

He may have attended the 1811 St George’s Dinner as well, but the attendees are not separately listed so there’s no way of knowing. Only one other Dinner is recorded, for 1812, and Chatham was not present.

Returning to the Chapters, he missed Chapter XXIX in March 1812, but he was at Chapters XXX-XXXI and XXXIII-XXXVII (he missed XXXII, on 4 March 1813, for no obvious reason that I can think of). He was absent from Chapter XXXVIII, on 24 July 1817, but this was around the time that his wife fell victim to her second bout of mental illness, so it’s not much of a surprise to see him absent until Chapter I of the reign of George IV (7 June 1820).

After this Chatham disappears almost completely from the record, but then Chapter II of George IV was not held till 1822, when Chatham was in Gibraltar. After his return in 1825, however, he never attended another Chapter, and there were 13 more Chapters and 2 St George’s Day Dinners held before Chatham’s death. Most of them were held during the reign of William IV, though, when Chatham’s health was poor, and he was mostly in Brighton when the Chapters were held. Still, Camden and Westmorland, his contemporaries (and close friends), were still attending nearly every Chapter.

The final mention of Chatham records his passing:

“On the 24th September 1835, in Charles Street Berkeley Square, Died, General The Right Honourable John, Earl of Chatham, Knight Companion of this Most Noble Order.”[4]

One last interesting note: one of the Statutes of the Order stipulates that no member of the Order should go out of the country without getting prior permission of the King. I found a few examples of this in the Register, mostly for Knights wishing to go abroad for their health, but permission was not recorded for Chatham to go abroad with the army either in 1799 or 1809 (or, indeed, to Gibraltar in 1821). I suspect this is probably because permission was not required to go abroad on military service, but possibly any permission given was not recorded.

So, in sum, of 26 Chapters during the reign of George III, 8 Chapters during the reign of George IV, and 9 Chapters during the reign of William IV, Chatham attended:

— his investiture (1790)

— the installation of April 1805 (the only proper Installation during his time as Knight)

— 11 Chapters from 1803 – 1820

— 1 (possibly 2) St George’s Day Dinners (out of a total of 5 recorded)

So no, not a brilliant record, but then Chatham was actually unable to attend 10 of the Chapters due to being either ineligible or out of the country, and missed a further 5 due to circumstances out of his control (family illness or bereavement, or — say — political disgrace). As a result, I make out he attended 11 out of 26 possible Chapters.

____________

References

[1] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 155

[2] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) ff 159-60

[3] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.5 (1688-1804) f 168

[4] St George’s Chapel Archives, Register of the Order of the Garter, SGC G.6 (1805-1861) f 79

Lord Chatham in Colchester

I’ve known for a good while that the 2nd Earl of Chatham had close connections with Colchester. He spent a great deal of time there, connected with the military garrison. I believe he was, for a long while, Commander in Chief of the Eastern District, with headquarters in the town.

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

Colchester Barracks in the mid 19th century, from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp251-255

He was, however, in Colchester as early as 1798. John had not left the army since rejoining it in 1778, but between 1788 and 1798 he put politics first. In the summer of 1798, however, he received the rank of Major-General and clearly made a choice to return to his military career, appearing at the King’s birthday levee in his regimentals and moving to the Colchester garrison.[1] On 13 September 1798 Pitt the Younger wrote to his sister-in-law, Mary, Countess of Chatham: “I rejoice that my Brothers Military Life agrees so well with him, and that you like your Quarters, which I shall be very glad if I can visit … I shall direct this to Colchester.”[2]

From 1806 onwards John spent a significant part of the second half of each year in Colchester. Sometimes he seems to have been running away from something else — I suspect he spent so much time in Colchester in 1807 and 1808 because of his wife Mary’s illness, and after 1810 I would guess he had little to keep him in London — and how much his attraction to Colchester had to do with the local hunting scene, I could not say. He was a visible enough public figure, however, and in October 1807 the town Assembly appointed him High Steward of Colchester and gave him the Freedom of the Borough as “a new proof of the popularity of the [Duke of Portland’s] present vigorous Administration”, of which John was a member as Master General of the Ordnance.[3]

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

Colchester today (Wikimedia Commons)

The post of High Steward was largely ceremonial (salaried, of course, although its £10 a year was hardly going to make much of a difference to John’s considerable debts). The post had been established in 1635, with a fairly vague brief “to advise and direct” the mayor, the twelve aldermen, twelve assistants, and eighteen councilmen who made up the Assembly, “to elect officers, make bye-laws, &c”.[4]

I imagine John much enjoyed the ceremonial aspects of the post, although these sometimes entailed more prosaic elements. Goodness knows how often he did this, and presumably this reflected John’s personal religious preferences (of which I have found no other sign so far), but I have tracked John down at a meeting of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society in Colchester on 7 December 1812. I can only imagine John struggling not to fall asleep while the Reverend W. Dealtry thus concluded a long speech with reflections on the “noble patronage” Chatham brought to the meeting: “It is a patronage, of which, I am well persuaded, your Lordship never can repent; and I will venture to add, that by giving lustre to this society your Lordship will reflect lustre even upon your own illustrious coronet.”[5]

John was High Steward until 1818, when he was succeeded by John Round, a local barrister and MP. By this time Chatham had moved on: he settled at Abington Hall in Cambridgeshire in 1816, and his wife’s ill-health would in any case have kept him away from Colchester. But until 1815 he was frequently in the town, as is clear from all the correspondence dated from Colchester, as well as newspaper snippets following his movements.

But where did John stay in Colchester? It was quite obvious to me he must have had a reasonably permanent residence. For months I have been searching for it. Yesterday, quite by chance, I stumbled across a reference in a local Colchester journal in 1872, reminiscing about when “Lord Chatham lived in Head-Street”.[6] Further investigation revealed the name of his house in Head Street: Headgate House.[7]

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House today (from Google Street View)

Headgate House is now part of a shopping centre (H&M has moved in), but the frontage remains essentially unchanged from the house John Chatham would have known. It was described in an article as “possibly the finest family house in the town”, and the photographs reproduced in the article certainly suggest a house which, while rather less grand than what Chatham would have been used to, was grand enough. (The article is reproduced online here.)

Presumably this was the house where the following (somewhat dubious) anecdote was set:

It was the custom of Lord Chatham, when he commanded at Colchester, to invite every officer belonging to the garrison, in rotation, to his hospitable and elegant table. It happened, one day, that a raw Scotch lad, from some fastness of the Highlands, who had joined his regiment but a day or two previous, was placed opposite Lady Chatham, about midway between the noble host and his aid-de-camp, who sat at the bottom of the table. … A batter pudding was placed before her ladyship, when the sweets were paraded, and, with her usual urbanity, she invited Mr MacNab to partake … MacNab loved batter pudding, and he thought it a fitting occasion, in asking for more, to pay such a compliment to the elegant woman opposite to him as would make ample amends for his silence during the repast; without waiting, therefore, for a servant’s assistance, he pushed the plate across the table in a manner to attract her ladyship’s eye, and, with a countenance lit up by the brilliancy of the compliment he was about to pay, said, ‘Your pudden is sae excellent, my leddy, I needna ask ye wha made it.'[8]

I am still on the lookout for anything to do with Lord Chatham and Colchester: he spent so long there, and seems to have been so closely connected to the town, that I can’t believe he left absolutely no evidence of his being there. If anyone knows of anything, I would be grateful if you would contact me and let me know!

______________

References

[1] Express and Evening Chronicle, 2 June 1798

[2] William Pitt to Mary, Countess of Chatham, 13 September 1798, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/101 f 141

[3] Bury and Norwich Post, 7 October 1807; Morning Post, 9 October 1807

[4] The History and Antiquities of the Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex (Colchester, 1810), p. 74; A History of the County of Essex IX, Victoria County History (London, 1994) 156

[5] The Proceedings of the Colchester and East Essex Auxiliary Bible Society … (Colchester, 1812), unpaginated

[6] The British Flag and Christian Sentinel, 1 February 1872

[7] Philip Crummy, “The House that Ann and Hugh built”, Catalogue: New of Archaeological Excavations in Colchester, 18 (Winter 1985/6), 6-11

[8] Benson Earle Hill, Recollections of an Artillery Officer … I (London, 1836), 276-7