Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 29, 1861 --- Death of a Bankrupt Duke

Richard Plantagenet Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville, 2d Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who single-handedly squandered most all of a huge family fortune, dies alone in the inelegant surroundings of a railway hotel. He was 64.

Massive real estate purchases - using primarily borrowed money - and prodigious spending habits led to his ruin. The Duke's entertainments had been legendary. On her last visit to the Duke's magnificent Buckinghamshire seat at Stowe in 1845, Queen Victoria was offended by the extravagance: "I am sure I have no such splendid apartments in either of my palaces." Two years later, His Grace fled to the continent, escaping debts of some £1.8 million. The collapse was total.

Bailiffs held a 40-day auction at Stowe in 1848. Holbein portraits, Sevres china, everything went, "to be sold in shops, to glitter in the public rooms of hotels, or decorate the mansions of self-made men." Stowe was abandoned; its "fish ponds choking up, its lawns unshorn, its walks unkept." Sir Charles Greville paid a visit and thought it "altogether a painful monument of human vanity, folly, and, it may be added, wickedness, for wicked it is thus to ruin a great House and wife and children."

Buckingham's wife, daughter of the Marquess of Breadalbane, whose own fortune was drained dry, had left him. From exile, the Duke inquired as to the possibility of being named Viceroy in India. Prime Minister Derby demurred, noting privately that the Duke's "character and habits of life would render his appointment to high office discreditable to any Government." His only son - forced to become a "man of business" - rose to the post of Chairman of the Great Western Railway and found a room for his profligate pater in the company hotel at Paddington Station.  "From the splendor of a prince the unfortunate Duke descended to the grade of a lodger." At his death, there is little sympathy; i.e. The Times: "[He] flung away all by extravagance and folly, and reduced his honor to the tinsel of a pauper and the baubles of a fool."

His son assumed the title. While he was able to settle the remaining family debts, he died without issue, bringing the Dukedom to an end.

A sketch of the Duke, still flush, in 1845 from the Illustrated London News

July 28,1854 --- An Irish Romance

John Carden, Deputy-Lieutenant of County Tipperary, stands trial for a foiled plot to abduct a wealthy young heiress for his bride.

Nothing else was talked of across Ireland, nor in much of England. Such crimes, once common in the untamed West country, are now rare. Miss Eleanor Arbuthnot, her fortune put at £30,000, was staying with the Goughs, her relatives in Clonmel. Carden, a man of fearsome local reputation, had approached Mr. Gough to request permission to present himself as a suitor but he was "rejected with indignation."

On 2 July, few noticed when Carden left early from Sunday services at Rathronan Church. He had to set his trap. As Eleanor and her sisters returned to Gough House, Carden and several ruffians ambushed their carriage. A frantic melee ensued; Carden's men were armed with "skull-crackers" while the Gough servants fought back with stones, one well-aimed rock hit the amorous Carden in the throat. He was also kicked in the chest by his would-be bride and his nose was broken by another young miss. He fled, leading his pursuers on a 20-mile chase which ended when his mare dropped dead.

The Attorney-General, who came down from Dublin to head the prosecution, tells the jury that Miss Arbuthnot avoided a "fate which no one can contemplate without horror." In Carden's carriage, police found a vial of chloroform (Sensation in court!). In her tearful testimony, the 20-year old maiden insists that at no time had she ever encouraged Mr. Carden's attentions. During Miss Arbuthnot's testimony, heard with "unmingled admiration", Carden sits with his hands over his still bandaged face, sobbing. Carden's lawyer admits an "outrage of a deep and aggravated kind" had been contemplated, but not accomplished. The jury agrees, finding Carden not guilty of "abduction with intent to ravish."  He does receive two years hard labor for "attempted" abduction and a lecture for his "pre-eminent audacity and turpitude."

The lighter sentence drew cheers, especially from the many Irish ladies in the courtroom. The Cork Examiner notes a strong pro-Carden feeling; Miss Arbuthnot is an outsider, after all, a "fair Saxon" (an Englishwoman) and "only the daughter of an Army clothier." A crowd of "Amazons" outside the courthouse gave three cheers for "the Carden of Bardane," expressing regrets that "such a fine man should be put away for the like of her."

According to Arbuthnot family lore, "During the years after his release from prison, Carden systematically followed Eleanor, often appearing unexpectedly in neighbourhoods where she was staying."

July 27, 1853 --- London's 1st Cab Strike

At midnight, London's cabmen head for home. The strike is on.  The Times reports that "never since the days of Charles II, when hackney carriages were first invented, have the sightseeing and outgoing public been reduced to such an extremity of helplessness."

The strikers are angry over a new law which, among other things, set fares at sixpence a mile, down from 8p. The law was prompted by the countless complaints of fare-gouging from the public during the Great Exhibition of 1851. Fare disputes will also now be immediately referred to the nearest police court. Within days of the new law, a cabman was hauled off to jail when he could not pay a five shilling fine.

The strike plunges London into chaos. The scene at the city's many railroad termini is particularly confusing. Hundreds of travelers, caught unawares, find their luggage piled at kerbside. The coarse, jocular remarks of the idle cabmen only add to the discomfiture of the stranded. The omnibuses still run - although the profiteering operators hike fares 25% - but Londoners "of quality" eschew such declasse transit and take to the pavement. An eyewitness wrote, "Several instances of ladies in high degree in a state of comparative exhaustion were observed." The Times demands that the strike be met with "firm resistance." The Illustrated London News finds the absence of the cabs quite tolerable: "No longer having public stables in their midst, the great highways of the metropolis ceased to be offensive to the eyes and to the noses of the public."

By the second day, while the cabmen remained parked, there suddenly appeared all manner of conveyance. The cartoon here is from Punch and shows a man in evening dress off to the theatre in a wheelbarrow! The government held firm to the sixpence, while agreeing to discuss side issues such as "back fares" on those occasions when a driver was taken far from the central city.

By day three, it was obvious that the strike had failed. Restive drivers, with no income, could not remain parked forever. On Monday morning, London's streets were back to normal and so were the cabs, "All went on as before - neither less extortionate, nor more civil, nor more clean."

July 26, 1865 --- The Rode Murder

The Queen is "pleased" to respite the death sentence imposed on 21 year old Constance Kent, sentencing her instead to life in prison. Thus, the sensational five-year old mystery of "Rode Hill House" is finally brought to a close.

In a Devizes courtroom, Constance had come forward a few days earlier to answer "Guilty" in a clam, barely audible voice, to the charge of killing her half-brother. Constance is the daughter of Samuel Kent, a rather loutish factory inspector who first seduced and - upon the death of his wife - then married Constance's governess. Settling in the Somerset village of Rode, Kent and his new wife soon had a son of their own. Constance was never happy in Rode Hill House and ran away at least once.

Late one night in June, 1860, 4-year old Francis was found slain in the privy; his throat horribly slashed. While baffled magistrates could only blame "person or persons unknown," many villagers suspected the unpopular Mr. Kent. Enter finally Scotland Yard's first "super-sleuth" Inspector Whilcher. He shocked everyone by quickly arresting Constance, his theory was that she killed the boy out of jealousy.  The police searched everywhere for Constance's missing nightdress (with telltale bloodstains?).  Constance explained that the garment must have been "lost in the wash." The dress was never found and the grand jury refused to indict. Whilcher became so obsessed with the case he was forced to resign.

The Kents moved to Wales but without Constance who entered a convent. The case languished until a Brighton curate came forward with Constance in tow to confess. In her written statement, Constance recalled how she "thought the blood would never come" as she drew the razor across the neck of the sleeping child. Admitting her guilt, she sat silently (The Daily Telegraph remarked on her "expression of dull stupidness") as she was sentenced to hang. The respite is not generally accepted; The Saturday Review  rejected any hint of insanity: "She was not mad; only pre-eminently wicked, crafty, unfeeling, treacherous, vile, deceitful and hard-hearted beyond almost all human experience."

However, the mystery being finally solved, few wanted the gallows for such a young woman. She was to spend the next twenty years in various of Her Majesty's prisons. Released from Portland Prison in 1885, she vanished, leaving behind several "much admired" mosaics in the chapel.

July 25, 1865 --- The General was a Lady

The retired Inspector-General of the Army Medical Department, Dr. James Miranda Barry dies at home in London. Notification of Barry's death is sent immediately to Army headquarters at the Horse Guards along with the incredible news that the doctor was a woman.

The news is quickly hushed up; a fellow medical officer declared: "There can be no doubt among those who knew him that his real physical condition was that of a male in whom sexual development had been arrested about the sixth month of fetal life." 70-years old at her death, Dr. Barry had concealed her gender upon enlistment in 1813, rising to Surgeon Major by 1827, and became Inspector-General in 1858, succeeding Florence Nightingale's nemesis, Sir John Hall. Yet, the sainted but quite prickly Miss Nightingale also had her run-ins with Gen. Barry. When later informed of the General's gender, Florence declared, "I should say she was the most hardened creature I ever met throughout the Army."

There had been rumors and speculation for years. Lord Albemarle, who met her while she was serving in Capetown, recalled her thusly: "In appearance a beardless lad with—reddish hair and high cheekbones. There was a certain effeminacy in his manner which he was always striving to overcome. His style of conversation was greatly superior to that one usually heard at a mess-table in those days."

Barry's rise through the medical corps was delayed several times due to repeated breaches of discipline; she fought at least one duel and was ordered home to London under arrest on more than one occasion. The truth remains a mystery; The Dictionary of National Biography suggests she was the granddaughter of a Scottish earl adding, "The motive of her singular conduct is stated to have been love for an army surgeon." Even the servant woman who had been with her for years was shocked to learn her master had been her mistress all along.

The General has become a latter-day heroine for feminists; "So far ahead of her time that, to achieve her purpose, she renounced her sex." In 2009, it was announced that a movie based on her life was to be made starring Natascha McElhone.

July 24, 1837 --- Poor Mr. Cocking

Several thousand people are looking on as Robert Cocking, a 61-year old painter and amateur aeronaut, lifts off from London's Vauxhall Gardens to test his homemade parachute. He and his contraption are suspended beneath the giant Nassau balloon. The parachute is described as being "not very unlike an umbrella turned upside down," an inverted cone with a wicker basket attached for Mr. Cocking. The frame, 107' in circumference, is made of tin and it is covered in the finest Irish linen. Cocking's theories had "engrossed very nearly all his attention" for years.

As the great balloon rises, his plan is to get up to at least 8000 feet before releasing himself. However, the weight of his apparatus slows the balloon's ascent. The balloonists, Spencer and Green, jettison much of their ballast in a bid to rise higher. The balloon drifts over South London where it vanishes into a bank of clouds making it unsafe to drop any more ballast for fear of what's below. Finally, over Greenwich and only a mile up, the balloonists advise Cocking they can get no higher. From his basket, Cocking yells, "Well, now I think I shall leave you. Good night, Spencer. Good night, Green." With that, he severs the tether.

The balloon, freed of the weight, shot up like a skyrocket. Sadly, Cocking goes the other direction at much the same pace. In Norwood, a man described the chute's descent as like a stone through a vacuum. With a tremendous crash, Cocking's basket and chute slam into the ground at a farm near Lee. A shepherd is first to reach him. Cocking has been spilled from the basket, his head badly cut, his wig tossed some distance away. A few groans are the only brief sign of life. Carried by cart to the Tiger's Head Inn, Cocking soon died of his injuries.

At the inquest, Mr. Gye -the operator at Vauxhall - said Cocking had been extremely confident in his machine and "exhibited no apparent want of nerve." A Professor Airey testified that the chute was "insufficient to support the individual within the limits of velocity required by nature for the preservation of life." The coroner's jury placed no blame, ruling that Cocking's death could be attributed to "misfortune."

The only criticism was directed at the innkeeper who had charged sixpence to see the mangled body; the coroner found the publican's ghoulish scheme "deserving of peculiar censure and deprecation."

Mr. Cocking's parachute (courtesy of ssplprints.com)

July 22, 1869 --- A Horse-Whipping in Clubland

Lord Charles Carrington (left) is convicted of assault, having horse-whipped Eustace Grenville-Murray on the steps of the Conservative Club.

Grenville-Murray is an illegitimate son of the bankrupt Duke of Buckingham, and edits a satirical journal called The Queen's Messenger.  In which publication, he had recently attacked the Carrington family. They were labeled, "Nottinghamshire nobodies... bargaining bumpkins with a peddler's nature," whose "purchased" peerage is a "very shocking outrage."

Having thrashed the author, Carrington stood over him in the street and shouted, "You may feel yourself disgraced." The fashionable world reveled in "a row of the 18th Century kind." At Carrington's arraignment, a courtroom brawl erupted between partisans of the original combatants. The magistrate fled and The Spectator looked on disapprovingly, "Such a failure of dignity has rarely, if ever, been witnessed in an English court." Even the muck-raking weekly Tomahawk dismissed the raucous proceedings as a "bear-garden."

As the trial. finally opens, Grenville-Murray is portrayed by his attorney as the victim of a "cowardly and dastardly attack." On the stand, Grenville-Murray glibly denies authorship of the offending piece, noting however that it is "very well-written." Carrington's attorney says the young Lord had acted only as any "high-minded, honorable and gallant young gentleman" would have done. The jury, of course, could not but convict him, adding however that the assault had been "committed under the circumstances of the strongest provocation." The judge sets the fine at only £100, condemning the Queen's Messenger as a publication which "must excite in the breasts of every well-minded person the utmost abhorrence."

With a perjury charge almost certain, Greville-Murray opted to flee to France where he continued to use his pen to skewer aristocratic pretensions. In absentia, he was booted out of the Conservative Club; the membership committee declared: "A man who connects himself with scurrilous journalism must not
expect to be considered a fit companion for gentlemen."

Lord Carrington, whip-in-hand, from Vanity Fair, 1874.

July 22, 1875 --- The Sailor's Friend

A wild scene unfolds on the floor of the House of Commons when Prime Minister Disraeli announces that - in the few days left in the session - there will not be time to act on the Merchant Shipping Reform Bill. The Radical MP for Derby, Joseph Plimsoll, known across England as "the sailor's friend," rises immediately. In what the official record describes as a state of "great excitement," Plimsoll - knowing all too well that several shipowners and builders sit on the Tory benches behind Mr. Disraeli -vows, "I will unmask the villains who have sent brave men to death and destruction."

For years, Plimsoll had sought tighter safety regulations for the merchant shipping fleet, most notably a law to stop the often-disastrous practice of overloading. He charges that greedy shipowners - "speculative scoundrels" - knowingly operate unseaworthy ships, trusting that the insurance will cover them if the vessel is lost and pity the crew. He singles out Edward Bates, a shipowner and Tory MP from Plymouth, who'd lost seven ships in just the previous two years! In the ensuing tumult, Plimsoll refuses to withdraw the word "villain." Disraeli, with stated reluctance, asks the Speaker to reprimand Plimsoll for his "disorderly behavior." Plimsoll leaves with a final shout: "Do you know that thousands are dying for this?"

In the words of a fellow member: "The strain of overwork to which his benevolence and enthusiasm had impelled him, rendered him quite unable to meet the present disappointment calmly." Sympathetic toward his goals, The Spectator nonetheless decried such tantrums: "not a state of mind to be imitated, or even admired."

Plimsoll returned to the House a week later to apologise. If his outburst had been planned, it worked. Before adjourning, Parliament adopted a requirement that all ships be painted with a line at the maximum load level. Inevitably, it became known as the "Plimsoll line."

Sketch from the Penny Illustrated Paper: "The Perils of Our Sea-Men"

July 21, 1877 --- Pongo

Several of London's leading men of science are invited to the Royal Aquarium in Westminster for a private viewing of the first live gorilla presented in Europe.

Pongo, the English-friendly version of M'Pungo, had been purchased by a German scientist from a tribe in Gaboon for two gallons of rum, Pongo had been the sensation of Berlin when he was first exhibited there earlier in the year. The British Medical Journal correspondent reported back on the remarkable beast, calling him "almost more than anthropomorphic." First reports on Pongo's human-like features and child-like docility led to much excitement among naturalists hoping to have found "the missing link" to prove Darwin's theories.

Once in London, poor Pongo fails to live up to his press notices. The scientists leave disappointed. Given a pencil to write with, Pongo makes a few desultory scratches on the provided paper but seems to prefer chewing on the instrument, "swallowing about an inch of the finest Cumberland lead." An experiment with a gentleman's hat is no more successful; the battered stovepipe has to be wrestled from Pongo's grasp. In The Spectator, one of Pongo's critics described him as "an interesting, if not precisely fascinating animal, and the strongest proof of his quaint suggestion of kinship ... is that one is never free from a queer sense of bad manners in asking questions about him before his grave, blank face."

Though the experts were less than thrilled with Pongo, the public turned out in such numbers the phenomenon was dubbed Pongo-mania. Ads read, "Mr. Pongo, the only Gorilla, will receive at the Royal Aquarium from 12 to 1, 4-6, and 8-9. The price of admission: two shillings." Accompanied by a Dr. Hermes from Germany, who spoke only the most laborious English, Pongo performed in the company of a chimpanzee and a dog. A highlight of the program came when he would either drink a small glass of beer or smoke a cigar, "African-style, puffing the smoke out through his nose." The Times noted sardonically: "As he has so early learnt both to smoke and drink, it is hoped that he may soon acquire the other accomplishments which distinguish civilization."

How sad it is to report that Mr. Pongo passed away suddenly upon his return to Berlin.

July 20, 1854 --- Marian and George

Marian Evans, later immortal under her soon-to-be adopted nom de plume George Eliot, leaves for Germany with her lover, London journalist George Henry Lewes. Aboard a fast new steamer to Calais, they passed the night on deck. "The sunset was lovely but still lovelier the dawn."

Marian is unmarried at 35; Lewes is 37 and married, but half of the six children in his home are not his. Marian, the anonymous editor of The Westminster Review, and Lewes, who edited a radical weekly called The Leader, had been lovers for some time. Such unconventional amours, if kept discreet, are commonplace in London's literary world. Few questioned, therefore, the original explanation that the two had gone to Wiemar to do research on Goethe for a book Lewes was writing. However, word soon came back to London that George and Marian were openly living together.

The reaction is one of shock. Marian dismisses the concern of those who "troubled themselves very little while [I] lived in privacy and loneliness." To an estranged friend, she wrote: "From the majority of persons, of course, we never looked for anything but condemnation. We are leading no life of self-indulgence, except indeed, that being happy in each other we find everything easy."

The following March, George and Marian returned to England. Dickens thought them "the ugliest couple in London." Carlyle, who thought Lewes was the "ugliest little fellow," called his erstwhile friend a libertine and Marian a home-wrecker. Lewes answered so strongly that Carlyle agreed to "clear the lady from such unworthy aspersions." Jane Carlyle saw the couple at the theatre and thought them "Propriety personified." The more genial Trollope remained their friend throughout; a regular caller at Marian's Sunday afternoon "at homes" in St. John's Wood. Upon her death, Trollope insisted. "In truth she was one whose private life should be left in privacy."

George and Marian remained together until his death in 1878. While Lewes had continued to move socially, Marian remained uninvited. In 1857, her first novel, Scenes of a Clerical Life, was published under the name George Eliot. While novels by men received more serious attention, it was also no doubt wise to conceal the author's true and, to many, quite scandalous identity.

Marian Evans painted by Durade

July 19, 1900 --- Mr. Astor's Great Gaffe

The American expatriate millionaire William Waldorf Astor (left) makes an apology in the columns of his own newspaper, The Pall Mall Gazette.

Astor had lived in England for eight years and, although basically an eccentric recluse, he had made inroads into society. While he preferred to sleep in the strongroom at his office in the City, surrounded by bags of gold sovereigns, his parties at Cliveden, his splendid Thames-side seat, and at his home in Carlton House Terrace became justly famous.

In late June, he entertained at the latter address. The Countess of Orford, invited by Astor, brought as her escort Captain Sir Berkeley Milne of the Royal Navy, a former commander of the Queen's yacht. At the door, however, Astor confronted the officer, declaring, "I have not had the pleasure of your acquaintance and I must ask you to leave." The abashed Milne retreated to his club where he wrote an immediate apology. Astor was not satisfied at all and placed an item in the society column of the Gazette: "We are desired to make known that the presence of [Capt. Milne] at Mr. Astor's concert last Thursday evening was uninvited."

London society was set aflame. The Prince of Wales, whom Astor had egregiously befriended in hopes of a knighthood, stood by Milne, inviting him to sit in the Royal box at the theatre. The Saturday Review sallied to Milne's defense, "the latchet of whose shoe Astor with all his millions is unworthy to untie." Astor was threatened with expulsion from the Carlton Club unless he apologised. At last, claiming a "misapprehension," Astor states in the Gazette: "Explanations of a completely categorical kind now show that (Milne's) presence was due to a misunderstanding that entirely absolves him from any individual discourtesy."

Time and Astor's fortune - he heavily supported the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital - eventually assuaged the ill feelings and the Prince, when King, made him a Viscount.

Mr. Astor from the New York Times

July 18, 1882 --- A Body-Snatcher

After seven frantic months, the missing body of the recently deceased 25th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres is recovered, not 500 yards from his disturbed crypt. The previous December, workmen on the estate at Dunecht, near Aberdeen, found the crypt door ajar, a slab moved, the coffin skillfully opened, and the late Earl ("a spare man") carried off. The public reveled in ghoulish fascination for months as police crossed Scotland in an effort to solve "The Dunecht Outrage."

The Queen sent a pretty note to the Dowager Countess upon the return of her husband's remains. A scholarly and well-beloved peer, the Earl had gone to his eternal rest in Italy in 1880. The history of his corpse, however, had been anything but restful. His coffin had been carried by coach across the Alps, lashed to the deck of a North Sea steamer, and then, in the midst of one of Scotland's worst-ever snowstorms, the hearse was buried in a drift for weeks. And now this.

One popular theory as to the body's disappearance was that Edinburgh medical students took it to study the supposedly superior skills of Italian embalmers. In fact, the recovered body was described as being "in a wonderful state of preservation considering the vicissitudes through which it had passed." There were some fears that the body might be held for ransom; in 1878, an American millionaire's corpse vanished and $25,000 was demanded, in vain, for its return. The Spectator noted with bemusement: "The late Lord Crawford can take no harm, wherever his body is?"

Police had been led to the body by Charles Soutar, a local rat-catcher and poacher, who had drunkenly boasted in a pub that he knew where the Earl was buried. Not two feet below ground, the Earl's body is found in a blanket. Soutar insists that he came upon the actual grave-robbers who vowed to kill him if he talked. Unwilling or unable to name them, Soutar is placed under arrest.  The net soon tightens around the rat-catcher; police claim letters in his handwriting had been received by the Earl's widow demanding money for information.

Soutar receieves a five year prison sentence which some thought harsh; The Times approves, however, hoping to discourage "so revolting a form of brigandage."

Illustrated London News

July 17, 1858 --- It Was a Dark & Stormy Marriage

Quietly, ending an embarrassing literary and political scandal, Lady Rosina Bulwer Lytton leaves a London mental asylum in the company of her son.

Of all the ill-starred marriages of 19th Century writers - Dickens, Thackeray and Meredith are only the best known - that of Edward and Rosina Bulwer Lytton may lay claim to be the most disastrous. Lord Lytton (left) was a novelist whose works included The Last Days of Pompeii and Paul Clifford (infamous for the opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night.")  He had separated from Rosina amid unusual bitterness in 1836. Described by an unfriendly observer as "a woman of genius enclosed by misadventure in a man's form," Bulwer Lytton was notoriously unfaithful and very likely a wife-beater. Rosina was no doubt unbalanced, given to hysterical public scenes.

In the separation, her children were taken from her and she spent several years exiled in France. Lytton turned his attention from writing to politics, winning a seat in the Commons and a minor post in a Tory government headed by Lord Derby. Then, Rosina returned to England. She launched a campaign of harassment: obscene letters (at times 20 a day) were sent to his clubs and colleagues, threats to sneak in to a benefit performance of a new Lytton play and pelt the Queen with eggs (guards were posted) and finally, in 1858, she appeared at a rally in Lytton's constituency and denounced him as a liar and a scoundrel who deserved to be transported to the Antipodes.

Rosina was lured to a "peace conference" to discuss a new separation agreement but she was instead bundled off to an asylum in mid-May where she found herself attended by a large "keeper." Despite considerable evidence of Rosina's unsound mind, The Daily Telegraph , to embarrass the Tories, accused Lytton of "hushing up [a] monstrous scandal." In the pro-Tory Times, young Robert Lytton promises to take his mother out of the country, explains: "This painful matter has been arranged, as it ought to be, by the
members of the family whom it exclusively regards."

Lady Rosina spent her remaining years in exile, outliving her husband. At her death in 1882, few mourn. Her grave in Shirley remains unmarked, despite her wish that her tombstone read: "The Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wart made to serve."

July 16, 1864 --- A Noble Jilt

Before few witnesses, at St. George's, Hanover Square, the Marquis of Hastings marries Lady Florence Paget. A petite beauty known as "the pocket Venus," Lady Paget had been engaged to be married to the  Marquis' best friend, the popular sportsman, Harry Chaplin. The two had been rivals for the lady but she'd accepted Chaplin at last and the wedding of the wealthy Lincolnshire squire and the daughter of the Marquis of Anglesey promised to be the event of the season.

But only days before the ceremony, while ostensibly out shopping for her trousseau, Florence goes in one door at Marshall and Snelgrove's on Oxford Street and slips out the Vere Street side door to a waiting carriage where, marriage license in hand, sits the Marquis. In one version of this oft-told tale, the hapless Harry waits patiently outside the store in his carriage for his betrothed, unknowingly the victim of a most infamous "jilt."

The audacity of it all.  Only the night before, the three principles had shared a box at Covent Garden Opera House. The fashionable Morning Post confessed surprise in its brief item on what it described as a "hurried and unexpected" marriage, "more particularly to the connexions of her ladyship none of whom were witnesses to the ceremony." To its American readers, Saunders' Newsletter reported that the "escalandre" had stunned London society: "Tho' everyone considers Mr. Chaplin most cruelly used, there are few who do not trust that - the first impulse of disappointed hopes over - common sense will soon induce him to recognize that there are some apparent losses which, being steadily examined, assume the permanent shape of a veritable gain."

Chaplin's revenge would come on Derby Day, 1867. Their friendship over, obviously, the two men became bitter rivals on the Turf. On an unseasonably cold May day, Chaplin's horse, Hermit (for whom he outbid Hastings at auction) went off at 66-to-1. Hastings bet heavily on the favorite, taking spiteful side action on Chaplin's longshot horse. In a storybook ending, Hermit charged out of the sleet to win, stunning the oddsmakers and costing Hastings no less than £120,000. Chaplin's winnings were £140,000.

Just over a year later, Hastings was dead, a combination of debt and drink. In an unusually scornful note on the Marquis' passing, The Times stated that he died "ruined in health, in honor and in estate." Chaplin married well, taking a sister of the Duke of Sutherland to the altar. Lady Florence remarried but never returned to society.

Lady Florence Paget (from the Frecker Collection).

July 15, 1858 --- The Great Stink

In the House of Commons, the Tory leader, Mr. Disraeli, suspends the scheduled calendar to introduce legislation calling for the purification of the Thames. "That noble river," proclaims Disraeli, "has really become a Stygian pool, reeking with inevitable and intolerable horrors."

The Thames, in effect an open sewer, is especially noxious during the ongoing sweltering heat wave. Adding to the misery, drought-like conditions had lowered the river level and slowed the current. MP's are seen entering Westminster with scented handkerchiefs at their faces. Huge canvas sheets, soaked in lime, were hung against the windows to block the stench. Still, in late June, The Times reported several members were seen running from one of the riverside committee rooms: "The Chancellor of the Exchequer [Mr. Disraeli] with his pocket handkerchief ... applied closely to his nose, with body half-bent, hastened in dismay from the pestilential odor, followed closely by Sir James Graham, who seemed to be attacked by a sudden fit of expectoration."

The cleanup effort will not come cheaply. £3,000,000 must be raised through a special municipal tax.  The project will be managed by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The action is overdue; The Illustrated London News complained that "Father" Thames, "once a clear and limpid stream [has become] a river of
pollution, a Stream of Death, festering and reeking with all abominable smells, and threatening three millions of people with pestilence as the penalty for their ignorance and apathy."

After much study - and opposition from what The Quarterly Review called "the Hectors and Memnon of intramural muck" - a plan is drawn up to embank the Thames. Within the banks would be eighty miles of sewer channels which, operating almost entirely by simple gravity, carry London's effluvia off to the North Sea. Joseph Bazalgette, engineer for the Board of Works, conceived of the project and carried it through to conclusion, only slightly over budget, picking up a deserved knighthood amid the middens.

The Embankment wasn't finished until 1870, leading Punch to quip that progress was "slow, but sewer."

July 14, 1865 --- Death on the Matterhorn

Triumph and tragedy in a single day for a British climbing team headed by Edward Whymper. Bidding to be the first to conquer the Matterhorn, Whymper's team had failed to reach the summit from the Italian side, however, success is won in their first approach via the Zermatt ridge. Camped at 11,000 feet the night before the final push to the top, Whymper recalled: "Long after dusk, the cliffs above echoed with our laughter and
the songs of our guides, for we were happy that night in camp, and did not dream of calamity."

Having reached the Alpine summit of 14,700 feet and planted the colors, the team begins its equally perilous descent. The disaster is, in Whymper's words, "the work of a moment." The 7-man team is connected one to another by a rope. It is vital that the rope remain taut, the sudden pull on any slack could be fatal. The youngest climber, Hadow - but in his teens - is the fourth man on the rope. He stumbles, staggering one way, then toppling back. The rope snaps, Hadow and three others vanish. Whymper's account continues: "For two or three seconds we saw our companions sliding downwards on their backs, spreading out their hands endeavoring to save themselves; then they disappeared one by one."

Whymper and a rescue team searched for the bodies. No sign was ever found of Lord Francis Douglas; what was left of the other three is described only as "shapeless remnants of humanity." All that could be done was a reading of the 90th Psalm, "Lord, thou halt been our dwelling place ... Before the mountains were brought forth." At an inquest, Whymper was exonerated of any blame for the accident, which was blamed on a faulty rope and inexperience.

The Times condemned the increasingly popular sport: "This is magnificent. But is it life? Is it duty? Is it common sense? Is it allowable? Is it not wrong?" Whymper gave up Alpine climbing and turned his adventure-seeking nature to a bid to become the first to cross Greenland, which he failed to do in 1872. In his later years, he was plagued by dreams of the accident on the Matterhorn. Even his friends say Whymper was "unpardonably rude" to anyone who brought up the subject, simply declaring, "It was my own business and I don't choose to discuss it."

Edward Whymper at Alpinist.com

July 13, 1849 --- Hellish Wickedness

Acting in the unlikely role of "private eye," the priggish William Gladstone sets off for the continent, as a favor to his close friend Lord Lincoln, eldest son of his patron, the Duke of Newcastle. The previous summer, Lady Lincoln had run off with her lover, Lord Walpole.

Gladstone's assignment, so to speak, is to seek confirmation of rumors that Lady Susan is with child, which would provide the damning evidence necessary for a divorce action before the House of Lords. He carries with him a "Dear Suzie" letter from Mrs. Gladstone: "Oh, may [my husband's] Christian and tender spirit, the earnest desire which fills his heart, produce an effect on you, dear Suzie, and lead you to follow his advice."

Criss-crossing the continent in comic opera fashion, chasing carriages, peeking in windows, Gladstone finally cornered his quarry at Lake Como. She refused to discuss her affairs with him and returned Mrs. Gladstone's letter unopened. But he had seen enough, writing home: "The unhappy subject of our cares is within a few weeks, probably a few days, of her delivery...[a] triumph of hellish wickedness over a woman of the rarest gifts, and the utter devastation of heart & home & profanation of the holy mystery of marriage. Lord have mercy upon us."

Lord Lincoln (pictured) had what he needed.  He replied to his emissary: "I hope the time may come when I may be able to revenge myself upon her by some act of kindness done to her without her knowledge." With Gladstone's testimony, the Lords granted a divorce in August, 1850. Gladstone's involvement in the scandal haunted him for some time. His later opposition to liberalized divorce laws in England was undercut and when the use of "detectives" to gather evidence in the new divorce courts was criticized in the Press, defenders of the "profession" recalled, with a smirk, that one "right honorable gentleman, once a Minister of the Crown, had tracked the wife of a noble Duke ... all through Italy."

July 12, 1873 --- Disgraceful Scene at Lord's

After a closely fought contest at the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match, the genteel partisans of either side get into what the Daily Telegraph described as a "vulgar brawl."

20,000 spectators had witnessed what an observer described as "two days of the finest all round school cricket that has been seen for some time at Lord's." In the end, with a last day comeback, Harrow upsets the favored Etonians by a mere five wickets. Happy Harrovians surge onto the pitch to hoist their heroes upon their shoulders. While officials at neither school are willing to accept responsibility for what follows, the cheerful celebration soon devolves into "noisy and riotous proceedings."

Police were summoned to restore order. At least one constable is injured; others - in a favorite schoolboy stunt - suffer only the indignity of having their hats stolen. While it must be acknowledged that much of the trouble was caused by local roughs - "persons of unseemly conduct" - the press focuses its strictures on the young men who would be their future leaders. The Illustrated London News, noting that such offensive behavior occured in front of the some of the finest ladies in the realm, reminded both institutions: "We are all so proud of our great old schools because they are emphatically training grounds for gentlemen."

The Marylebone Cricket Club, managers of the historic grounds at Lord's, promptly issued a manifesto:
"Such scenes as those witnessed Saturday would not occur if the partisans of both schools were to assist the authorities in checking the immoderate expression of feelings at the conclusion of the match."  The M.C.C. vowed that any repetition of such a scene "must inevitably end in the discontinuance of the match."

The 1874 match went off without incident. The Eton-Harrow match remained the leading event on the summer sport schedule. The annual tennis championships at Wimbledon (which did not begin until a few years later) were interrupted for two days so as not to interfere with the cricket. A recent history of schoolboy cricket notes (regrets?) that with the democratization of the public schools, the social aspect of the Eton-Harrow match has been lost.  In fact, the event "is no longer felt by England's top people to be an appropriate focus for a gathering."

July 11, 1876 --- The Balham Mystery


A new inquest opens into the death of Charles Bravo, a young barrister, married but five months to a mysterious widow, Florence Ricardo.  Bravo had died suddenly in April at his home, The Priory, in Balham, south London.  After dining with his wife, having taken copious wine, Bravo went to his room and quaffed his usual bedside tumbler of water. Crying out for help, vomiting repeatedly, he collapsed and died the next day.  A hasty first inquest discovered 30 grains (!) of antimony in Bravo's stomach but the coroner deemed "insufficient evidence" to rule it murder, suicide or accident. The Home Office, bowing to a braying Press, ordered a second inquest.

Much is made Mrs. Bravo's relationship with Dr. William Gully, the noted Malvern homeopath. Gully met Florence whilst treating her first husband, a violent drunkard, now deceased.  Gully is in his 60's and separated from his wife of nearly 80.  The doctor had lived with Florence in her widowhood. They had been lovers.  Opting for respectability however, Florence wed young Bravo and settled at The Priory. The good doctor quietly took lodgings nearby and was "a regular visitor." While Florence's "companion" testified the ex-lovers had maintained their intimacy, Florence insisted otherwise and flatly told the Bravo family counsel, "I will refuse to answer further questions in regard to Dr. Gully."

Florence had motive and means; a coachman had purchased the poison at her bidding, to "de-worm the horses." But could it have been suicide? The Bravos were not happy, their quarrels were frequent, many involving - as Charles called him - "that wretch Gully." Living beyond his means, Charles was also deeply in debt to an ex-mistress.

After four weeks, the jury gave up, ruling that while Bravo was "willfully murdered... there is not sufficient proof to fix the guilt upon any person or persons." The Press is again irate: Saturday Review calls it a "disgusting exhibition," Vanity Fair gagged at "the nauseous details of a number of incontinent and unprincipled lives."

Florence, dubbed "the gay widow of Balham," moved to Southsea where she died of drink but two years later. The Balham Mystery has prompted numerous books.  Modern students conclude that Florence did it, if only by accident. A woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, who suffered two painful miscarriages in five months, the theory goes, Florence tried to drug her drunken husband to incapacitate him from renewing the conjugal relationship she dreaded.

Penny Illustrated Paper

July 10, 1858 --- A Garrick Squabble

To adjudicate one of the more memorable literary contretemps of the period, the Garrick Club - home to London's arts community - conducts a General Meeting. At issue is a recent rather cruel profile of Mr. Thackeray (left) published in Town Talk, a little-read weekly. The author of Vanity Fair was described as a "cold and uninviting" man now "deservedly ashamed" of much of his work. Worse, Thackeray was accused of hypocrisy, "No one succeeds better than Mr. Thackeray in cutting his coat according to his cloth." The profile concluded, "Our own opinion is that his success is on the wane."

The piece was written by Edmund Yates, a young friend of Mr Dickens. Thackeray's anger was directed at the latter.  Yates was inconsequential; Thackeray told a friend, "I am hitting the man behind him." Although publicly cordial, Thackeray was jealous of Dickens. He felt his work was superior but found less success with the public. He no doubt feared that his talent was on the wane; he'd had no success to match Vanity Fair, published in a decade earlier.

When Yates refused to apologise, Thackeray appealed to the Garrick, where both were members, inquiring "Whether the practice of publishing such articles ... is not intolerable in a society of gentlemen." The directors of the Club ordered Yates to apologise or resign. Under the by-laws, Yates could and did seek a General Meeting. Neither principle attends. During the debate, Dickens who called the whole thing a "frightful mess, muddle, complication and botheration" - speaks highly of Thackeray but stands by Yates. In the end, Yates loses by a 70-46 vote. Yates must go.

After an embarrassing scene when Yates tried to force his way into the club, the matter died away but it closed the long friendship between England's two leading authors. They did not speak for three years. Finally, meeting one day at the Athenaeum, Thackeray approached Dickens, declaring, "It is time this foolish estrangement should cease." They shook hands and chatted amiably for several minutes. A few days later, Thackeray dropped dead.

July 9, 1844 --- An End to Dog-Stealing

The House of Commons moves to control London's infamous dog thieves. The sponsor, Henry Liddell MP, declares, "No man's dog is safe a moment - and the more valuable it is, the more certain it is to be stolen."

The victims include several Peers and MP's for the West End is the favorite haunt of the dog thief; the owners there are most willing and able to pay for the service's of the "dog-finder." In Henry Mayhew's classic London Labor and the London Poor, he described the modus operandi of a famous practitioner:
Chelsea George proceeds to varnish his hands with a sort of gelatine, composed of the coarsest pieces of liver, fried, pulverized and mixed up with tincture of myrrh. [He] caresses every animal who seems a 'likely spec', and when his fingers have been run over the dog's noses they become easy and perhaps willing captives.

The dog-stealer then steps employs a "dog-finder" who deals with the owner in the matter of a reward. Manby, in Curiosities of London Life, explains:


It sometimes happens that the reward offered ... is not deemed of sufficient amount by the thief in possession, who will cooly negotiate for a more liberal remuneration. A friend of the writer lost a handsome spaniel, and had bills printed, offering a guinea for his recovery. Next day he received a note informing him that if the reward were doubled he would see his favorite in the course of a few hours.
Heartsick owners, often pressured by inconsolate children, dug deeper, lest they lose any chance of ever seeing the animal again. Elizabeth Barrett's fabled spaniel, Flush, was dog-napped no fewer than three times, by what she called "the organized dog banditti." In fact, it took 20 guineas to retrieve Flush just one week before Miss Barrett's secret wedding to Mr. Browning.

Several MP's argue - not without reason - that the police have enough to do without safeguarding every "old woman's pug." In the end, a rather toothless bill emerged providing for seven years in jail for those convicted of a second offense. Still, victims rarely went to the police, knowing it likely doomed their hopes for a reunion with their beloved hound.

Miss Browning and her beloved Flush

July 8, 1879 --- The Barnes Murder

Kate Webster is convicted and sentenced to hang for one of the Victorian era's most gruesome and unsettling murders.

She had been hired as a servant by Mrs. Julia Thomas of Richmond. In and out of jail for petty crime and mother of a child out of wedlock, Kate was hardly suited to serve the fussy elderly widow. They soon clashed and Kate was given notice. In early March, on her last day, Kate confronted Mrs. Thomas in a violent argument, throwing her elderly mistress down a flight of stairs to her death. In her confession, signed the night before she hung, she picks up the story:
"I determined to do away with the body as best I could. I chopped the head from the body with the assistance of a razor which I used to cut through the flesh afterwards... as soon as I had succeeded in cutting [the body] up I placed it in the copper and boiled it ... I was greatly overcome, both from the horrible sight before me and the smell."
Not so overcome however, that she couldn't try to sell two jars of fat at the local pub. The head and other body parts went into the Thames.

Neighbors, alarmed for Mrs. Thomas' whereabouts, alerted police who tracked Kate to her native Wexford. Calling herself Mrs. Thomas, Kate was wearing the dead woman's jewelry. The trial is brief; Kate's plea for mercy sways neither jury nor judge. Three weeks later, she was hanged.

"The Richmond murder" was one of three well-publicized cases at the time in which a servant was the prime suspect. Noting the not unreasonable concern felt in many households, The Spectator offered placid reassurance: "The thousands of old ladies tended by respectable serving-women, and alone with them perhaps for some hours each day, may, we think, lay aside their fears. They are in at least as much danger from houses falling, from strokes of lightning, or from being run over in the street."

In October 2010, a crew doing some landscape repairs in the Richmond backyard of Sir David Attenborough unearthed a skull.  Forensic detectives have since determined it was, incredibly, the long lost head of poor Mrs. Thomas.

(Penny Illustrated Paper)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 7, 1865 --- A Deadly Doctor in Glasgow

A Scottish jury convicts Dr. Edward Pritchard of Glasgow of poisoning his mother-in-law and his wife. The doctor had been arrested shortly after his wife's funeral, where he had tearfully lifted the coffin lid for a final kiss. His good wife had been violently ill for some time when her mother came to live with them early in 1865. Not two weeks later, the meddlesome Mrs. Taylor died in a fit, after taking her daily dose of opium. Three weeks later, her daughter followed her to the grave, gastric fever being blamed.

Throughout this tragic period in his home, Pritchard had called in Dr. James Paterson to consult. When Mrs. Taylor died, Paterson refused to sign the death notice, informing the registrar, "The death was certainly sudden, unexpected, and to me mysterious." But despite suspicions that Mrs. Pritchard was also being poisoned, Paterson failed to act. That is, until her death, when Paterson was the likely author of an anonymous letter to police which prompted Pritchard's arrest.

Both bodies were exhumed and traces of antimony found in each. A military "sawbones" who had purchased the title of "Doctor," Pritchard portrayed himself as a victim of "malignant professional jealousy." His lawyers bid to shunt suspicion onto a young housemaid, Mary M'leod, with whom Pritchard - while ever playing the role of grief-stricken family man - admitted "an improper connection." The defense argued that the jealous 16-year-old, had slowly poisoned two women to free the man she loved. The Lord Justice, addressing the jury, said it would be "very hard to believe" a teenager could baffle two doctors. The jurymen follow his Lordship's lead and, hearing their damning verdict, Pritchard sways noticeably.

While Pritchard is condemned, the timid Dr. Paterson is merely denounced. He had testified that warning Mrs. Pritchard would have been "a breach of the etiquette of my profession." From the bench, the judge declares: "There is ... the duty that every right-minded man owes to his neighbor to prevent the destruction of human life in this world, and in that duty I cannot but say Dr. Paterson failed."  The Lancet rebuked his "cowardice and want of judgment" and The Times his "perverted scrupulosity."

As for Pritchard, before he hanged, he confessed, blaming "a terrible species of madness and the use of ardent spirits." The Spectator cringed at such "cold persevering cruelty...happily rare in Great Britain." Pritchard's hanging was the last public execution in Scotland; wrote a witness, "He did not die easily."

July 6, 1885 --- Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon

The most sensational expose in Victorian journalism, begins in The Pall Mall Gazette.  Entitled "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," the series details the London trade in young virgins, or "dainty morsels" as the Gazette's editor W.T. Stead calls them.

Readers fought rival emotions of disgust and excitement as Stead's lurid prose revelled in the "shuddering horror... constantly occurring in those dread regions of subterranean vice." Thanks to shameless advance promotion - a warning (left) was issued that "those who prefer to live in a fool's paradise of imaginary innocence" should not buy the paper - first day sales are overwhelming. In the days following, the Gazette actually ran out of newsprint.

The rival St. James Gazette called it "the vilest obscenity ever issued from a public press" and Stead's paper was removed from the ubiquitous W.H. Smith railway newsstands. Pressed by public outrage, police began arresting those vendors willing to sell the Gazette, prompting Stead to reply, "Instead of waging war against street boys ... let them prosecute us." They did and he wound up in jail.

Going beyond merely writing titillating headlines ("Strapping Girls Down"), Stead, to prove his point, had actually purchased a 13 year old girl. She cost him three pounds, an additional two bob after a midwife confirmed virgo intacta. In his zeal, perhaps, Stead had misled the girl's mother telling the woman he was buying her daughter for a maid. The girl was returned unharmed and Stead was unrepentant: "Beyond the momentary surprise of the midwife's examination, which was necessary to prove that a little harlot had not been palmed off on us, she experienced not the slightest inconvenience."

Convicted of fraud, however, he spent two months in jail. Stead gloried in his "martyrdom," declaring, "I shall not appeal and I shall not flinch." On the anniversary of his conviction each year (until 1912, when he went down with the Titanic), Stead appeared in London in convict uniform.

The series did move Parliament to pass laws raising the age of consent to 16.

July 5, 1839 --- The Death of Lady Hastings

Lady Flora Hastings dies at 32.  Her passing closes an embarrassing palace scandal but leaves the young Queen in the center of controversy.

Early in the year, gossip spread that Lady Flora, maid-of-honor to the Queen's mother, the Duchess of Kent, was "beginning to show." The father, said the tale-bearers, was Sir John Conroy, the Duchess' chief-of-staff. Victoria despised Conroy, "a monster and demon incarnate whose name I forbear to mention." She could easily believe the rumors that he had seduced Lady Flora during a long carriage ride the two had shared from Scotland. She ordered her personal physician, Sir James Clark, to examine the Lady who only reluctantly agreed to the procedure. Not only did they find no pregnancy, the doctors also confirmed that Lady Flora, at 32, was still a virgin.

Lady Flora complained that Sir James had been rough and rude. Now, the influential Hastings family raised a public uproar, demanding to know the source of the falsehood and the Duke of Wellington had to be called in to quiet the scandalous row. But strangely, Lady Flora continued to fill out, taking to her bed in June. Victoria, regretting her earlier suspicions, visited her often, finding her "literally a skeleton, but the body very much swollen like a person who is with child." In the end, "The poor thing died without a struggle." A post-mortem revealed a massive liver tumor and, if only to clear the poor woman's name for history - the doctors declared "the uterus and its appendages presented the usual appearances of the healthy virgin state."

Critical papers suggested the cause of death was more a broken heart. The Morning Post led the attacks, reflecting what it called "a universal feeling of indignation." The Queen's popularity fell to a new low. She had been hissed at Ascot, supposedly by the Duchess of Montrose and Lady Sarah Ingestre. Victoria expressed a wish - unfulfilled - to have them both flogged. Lady Flora's death heightened the Queen's disfavor; stones were thrown at a Royal carriage she sent to the funeral. The diarist Lord Holland described the whole affair as an "ugly offspring of prudery, tittle-tattle and folly."

July 4, 1850 --- Col. Sibthorp's Defeat

The proposed Great Exhibition survives a showdown vote in the House of Commons.

Plans for the elaborate "Crystal Palace," three times as long as St. Paul's, to be built in Hyde Park had been leaked to the Press and drew immediate fire. Prince Albert, the force behind the whole effort, bears the brunt of the attacks. In Punch for example: "
Albert! Spare those trees, Mind where you fix your show;
For mercy's sake, don't please, Go spoiling Rotten-Row.

The anti-Exhibition effort is led by Col. Charles Sibthorp, in Dickens' opinion - "quite unintentionally, the most amusing person in the House." His antics are regularly noted in Punch under the heading - "Our Gallant Colonel." Opposed to all change or improvement - he disapproved of indoor plumbing - Sibthorp leads the effort to block any use of Hyde Park. His typically intemperate speech is interrupted as much by jeers as
cheers. He calls the Exhibition "the greatest trash, the greatest fraud, the greatest imposition ever attempted to be palmed upon the people of this country." It would attract "all the bad characters at present scattered over the country" and, worse, London will be invaded by foreigners, all speaking gibberish and carrying stilettos. He concludes by warning all the West End to lock away their silver, and their women too, while they're at it!

By now, the good Prince is frantic. Enter the Prime Minister, Lord Russell who argues it is too late to tamper with "deeply matured arrangements." Sibthorp's motion is voted down 166-46. It's not the first clash for the Colonel and the Royal Family. In 1840, prior to the royal wedding, he fought to cut the proposed annuity for Prince Albert, leading the Queen to vow never to set foot in Lincoln as long as Sibthorp was the city's M.P.

The colonel retained his detestation for the Crystal Palace. When, after the Exhibition, the Palace was disassembled and relocated in Sydenham, Sibthorp bellowed, "I consider it a duty to my fellow-creatures not to go into the place. The very sight of it almost sickens me."

July 3, 1862 --- The Pretty Horsebreaker

The Times prints a letter from a reader, identifying himself only as "H," complaining about the commotion caused in Rotten Row by the daily rides of a certain beautiful young woman, "whom I must call Anonyma." The woman, writes H, is "prettier, better dressed, and sitting more gracefully in her carriage than any of the fine ladies who envied her her looks, her skill, or her equipage."

Now all the fashionable world knows Anonyma's identity; she is 23-year old Catherine Walters, nicknamed "Skittles," whose beauty and compliant charms had brought her far from the Liverpool slums of her birth. She is pictured left.  Outfitted by a shrewd Hyde Park stable-owner in the tightest possible riding habit and sent out in his best carriage, drawn by magnificent horses, Skittles had become the sensation of the London summer. Lady Augusta Fane reported that Skittles' costume "looked as though it was glued to the rider and showed off her slim figure to perfection."

In his letter, H simply asks that Anonyma be prevailed upon to drive in "some other portion of the Park," where she could "talk to her male acquaintances with becoming privacy." H, it turns out, is James Higgins, a wealthy young Londoner who delights in "leg-pulling" letters to the editor. If he hopes to draw more attention to Anonyma, he succeeds as the crowds grow larger prompting police efforts to keep Row traffic moving. The Daily Telegraph is outraged at its rival's gullibility, insisting that the Park is now infested by a number of "lewd women, who, being well paid by wealthy profligates for selling their miserable bodies...are enabled to dress splendidly, and drive handsome equipages. [Anonyma] is a worthless and shameful jade, and it is a scandal to have to mention her."

Though she remained "unmentionable" in most polite drawing rooms, Skittles became one of London's storied courtesans. She had a home in Mayfair, paid for by an admirer, "Harty-Tarty," the Marquis of Hartington. Her callers included the Prince of Wales and Mr. Gladstone, who took her on a guided
tour of St. Paul's. The journalist Labouchere wrote: "She must be the only whore in history to retain her heart intact."

Skittles continued to enjoy her rides in Hyde Park although, in her later years (she died in 1920), she was pushed along in a bath chair.

July 2, 1897 --- The Jubilee Ball at Devonshire House

The fancy dress ball at Devonshire House on Piccadilly is the highlight of the social calendar surrounding the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

The 700 guests are instructed to attend in "allegorical or historical costume dated earlier than 1820." The invitations are for 10:30 and the crush of carriages clogs the street for blocks. Guests are greeted by the Duke of Devonshire attired as Emperor Charles V; the Duchess wears the habiliments of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra. Lady Randolph Churchill - as the Empress Theodora - noted that the Duke and Duchess greeted their guests "by bowing, curtsying or salaaming, according to the characters they represented." The
Prince of Wales comes as the Grand Prior of the Order of Jerusalem. THE TIMES carried extensive detail on the costumes, just the Prince's hat merited a paragraph: "purpoint of black epingle velvet, richly embroidered steel and black jet tiny beads with passementerie of jet, etc." Princess Alexandra - who later admitted to being "horribly bored" by the whole affair - attends as Margeurite de Valois.

Stifling heat made it most uncomfortable and impossible to dance, especially for those in suits of armor. An argument over a young lady leads to a brief scuffle in the garden involving Lady Randolph's younger son, Jack, seconded by his more famous older brother. Yet, TOWN TOPICS enthused that it was a night "never to be equalled within living memory," and the overwhelmed Timesmen pitied the departing guests: "[They] will awake today upon a world that must indeed seem commonplace in comparison with the jewelled page of romance upon which, for a moment, they gazed last night."

An immediate dose of reality greeted the Duchess of Marlborough, who recalls the walk home across Green Park: "On the grass, lay the dregs of humanity. Human beings too dispirited or sunk to find work or favor, they sprawled in sodden stupor ... In my billowing period dress, I must have seemed to them a vision of wealth and youth, and I thought soberly that they must hate me. But they only looked, and some even had a
compliment to enliven my progress."

Ball guests (Baron Kenyon & the Countess of Mar) - copyright V&A.

July 1, 1844 --- A Great Turf Scandal

The Running Rein scandal, which had excited the liveliest interest in sporting circles, ends with a brief trial and a harsh lecture for the "Turf set."

Running Rein, owned by a Mr. Wood, had won the '44 Derby but paddock gossip raised suspicions about the horse. In fact, the horse and rider had been greeted with raucous catcalls and jeers in the winner's circle. Led by Lord George Bentinck, turf reformers filed suit on behalf of the owner of Orlando, the runner-up. They charge that the winning colt is not a 3-year-old, as required for the Derby, and further, is not even Running Rein, but rather a 4-year old horse named Gladiator.

The London courtroom is packed with Turf enthusiasts who must sit through hours of conflicting testimony as to the vetting of Running Rein. Lord George located a hairdresser who sold a dye to disguise tell-tale markings on the steed in question. Wood, blandly but firmly, denies all until the presiding judge, Baron Alderson, demands: "Produce your horse!" After much palavering, shame-faced lawyers for Wood admit that Running Rein has vanished and their client now concedes that "some fraud had been practiced."

Alderson, finding for the plaintiffs, declares Orlando the Derby winner.  He proclaims from the bench: "If gentlemen would associate with gentlemen and race with gentlemen, we should have no such practices. But if gentlemen will condescend to race with blackguards, they must expect to be cheated." Punch went even further: Let young men coming out in life follow Punch's counsel as well..."Avoid the turf blackguards," says the Baron. "My son," I say to you, "avoid the Turf gentlemen too." 

Admiral Roux, self-proclaimed "dictator" of the Turf set, dismissed such criticism as "humbug," adding, "Losers would always sooner make out the rest of the world to be rogues than themselves fools." Bentinck was soon elected president of a shaken Jockey Club, charged with cleaning out the stables of such unsavory characters.

Running Rein & Orlando from 1844derbyfraud.com

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 30, 1860 --- Darwin's Bulldog

A famous clash between Religion and Science takes place at Oxford. Less than a year after publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the British Association for the Advancement of Science hosts a discussion on the theory of evolution.

Ironically, one of the first speakers is Admiral Fitzroy, commander of Darwin's research vessel, the Beagle. The old sailor confesses the "acutest pain" over his role in the development of such an ungodly idea. He would later shoot himself in his London townhouse.

The main event, so to speak, however, is a debate featuring the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce and the biologist, T.H. Huxley (right), who stands in for the reclusive Darwin. The Bishop, a bluff, good-humored man (nicknamed "Soapy Sam" for his habitual hand-washing motion while speaking), had told friends he was eager "to smash Darwin." Concluding his assault, the Bishop turns to Huxley and inquires: "Is it on his grandfather's or grandmother's side that the ape ancestry comes in?"

While the crowd of 700 roars, Huxley, rising to respond, whispers to a friend: "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands." Huxley's reply is devastating: "If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would rather be a man - a man of restless and versatile intellect - who, not content with success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."

A hitherto unfriendly audience, stunned briefly, erupts in wild applause. A woman (Lady Brewster, they say) faints amid the tumult. Huxley, who attended with reluctance, left with a new nickname - "Darwin's bulldog" - and a belief in "the practical value of public speaking ... I should carefully cultivate it, and try to leave off hating it."

June 29, 1860 --- The Death of Peel

The former Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel is badly hurt when thrown from his horse on Constitution Hill. Ironically, Sir Robert had just retired his old bay mare for a supposedly more sure-footed mount thought more suitable for a fat, gouty, man of 62.

Having ridden out of the gates of Buckingham Palace, Peel stops to tip his hat to the daughter of a family friend when the horse reared. Thrown face downwards, Peel's more serious injuries occur when the animal rolls over him. Carried to his home in Whitehall Terrace, the injured man is laid upon a water mattress. Doctors diagnose only a broken collarbone, issuing an encouraging medical bulletin:
"There is great reason to hope that there is no internal injury. It is gratifying to be enabled to add that Sir Robert's head is uninjured."  Then soon grow more ominous as Sir Robert lingers in great pain and delirium. On 2 July, he died.

Only a post-mortem revealed a broken rib, which had apparently punctured a lung causing "death by pulmonary engorgement." Peel's doctors - including the Queen's own, Sir James Clark - came in for serious criticism. Responding in The Lancet, the doctors attributed the death to Peel's "excessive sensibility... his nervous system was so finely and delicately wrought as to render him singularly impatient and sensitive under suffering." Regardless, a modern historian describes the treatment as "lamentably incompetent."

The shock of his death burnished Peel's reputation. Isolated for his Tory apostasy over repeal of the Corn Laws, Peel is, nonetheless, widely mourned. The Queen thought "he could be less spared than any other human being" and felt that Prince Albert had taken the news dreadfully, "He feels that he has lost a second father." Wellington wept in the Lords. The diarist Greville offers a different (and typically mordant) view: "When we remember that Peel was an object of bitter hatred to one great party, that he was never liked by the other, and that he had no popular or ingratiating qualities, and very few intimate friends, it is surprising to see the warm and universal feeling which his death has elicited."

Sir Robert Peel painted by Pickersgill

June 28, 1838 --- Coronation Day

London is jammed for the coronation of Britain's 19-year old Queen. Lord Greville writes in his diary: "The noise, the movement, the restlessness are incessant and universal; in short, it is very curious, but uncommonly tiresome and the sooner it is over the better."  The young monarch is awake before dawn, disturbed by the guns in Hyde Park and the noise of the sleepless revelers.

The laughably mismanaged service, which begins near noon, lasts five hours. The Archbishop of Canterbury forces the coronation ring, designed for the little finger, on to Victoria's ring finger. Ice had to be applied to the Queen's hand following the service to remove it. At the end of the service, the Bishop of Bath & Wells discovers he'd skipped two pages in the coronation rite and the Queen has to be retrieved from the robing room to complete the procedure. In disgust, the Queen pleads to a sub-Dean, "Pray tell me what I am to do, for they don't know."

A light moment is provided by the 88 year old Lord Rolle who lives up to his name and stumbles over his robes, toppling down the stairs. Wits spread word that the family peerage requires such a performance at every coronation. The loudest cheers are for the Duke of Wellington.  O'Connell, the Irish liberator, received a surprise invitation but was hissed. The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, stricken with diarrhoea, appears quite weak; Disraeli thought Melbourne held the sword of state "like a butcher."

The Queen returns to Buckingham Palace and, in her first Royal act, gives her dog, Dash, a bath. At a state dinner that evening, a typically tearful Melbourne is full of praise, telling the Queen, "You did it beautifully - every part of it, with so much taste. It's a thing that you can't give a person advice upon, it must be left to a person." The kind words give Victoria "great and real pleasure." In her journal, she writes "I shall ever remember this day as "the Proudest in my life."

The daylong extravaganza, capped by midnight fireworks, costs £200,000, four times the cost to crown William IV in 1831.

Painting by Edmond Thomas Parris (1838)

June 27, 1857 --- Cawnpore

In the blood-soaked story of the Indian Mutiny, the massacre and ensuing reprisals at Cawnpore (Modern: Kanpur) stand alone.

The besieged British garrison at the remote Ganges crossing had held out for several weeks. The Maharajah of Bhitur, known as Nana Sahib, had first arrived in the guise of a friend but soon took command of the 3000 rebel Sepoy force, admitting "I only pretended to help them. At heart, I am their mortal enemy."

Under constant shelling and sniping, their food exhausted, the surviving 350 men, with their families, finally surrender. An emissary promises that "the subjects of Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria" shall receive safe passage to Allahabad. At Satichaura Ghat, the men are made to board the flimsy bamboo boats first. As the women, children and wounded waded towards the boats, several captured cannons open fire. Saber-wielding Sepoys slashed and bayoneted those who managed to escape the now burning boats. A survivor wrote that the river turned red with blood. Only four men survive, drifting downriver to tell the tale.

Over 100 women and children are taken prisoner and housed at the Bibighar, "House of the Ladies."  But when British forces under General Havelock reached Cawnpore in mid-July, they found all the hostages had been butchered, the naked corpses thrown into the wells to poison the water. The Queen was haunted by thoughts of those subjected to "every outrage which women must most dread." To Lady Canning, wife of the Viceroy, she writes: "I ask not for details, I could not bear to hear more ... I cannot say how sad I am to think of all this blood shed in a country which seemed so prosperous-so improving and for which, as well as for its inhabitants, I felt so great an interest."

Capt. Garnet Wolseley, later Commander-in-Chief, recalled arriving in Cawnpore with the relief forces: "A more sickening, more maddening sight, no Englishman has ever looked upon ... it awoke in us, the countrymen of these helpless victims, a fiendish craving for the blood of the cowardly murderers."

It would be sated. Before the captured rebels were hung, they were forced to lick the blood of their victims from the walls and floor of a hut.  General Neill, who gave the order, wrote. "No doubt this is strange law but it suits the occasion well, and I hope I will not be interfered with until the room is thoroughly cleansed in this way.''

Nana Sahib escaped. He had as many as dozen "doubles" to confuse his enemies and for years after the mutiny was crushed, mistaken reports of his capture were commonplace.

1858 photo of the well & memorial at Cawnpore (http://www.oldindianphotos.in/)

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 26, 1877 --- A Presidential Visit

The American Civil War general and former-President, Ulysses Grant, is to dine at Windsor Castle with the Queen. Out of office but three months, Grant is on a world tour. Not afforded the higher honor of a state dinner, the Grants are invited to a private supper. The evening is not a success.

The Grants arrived more than an hour early. Worse, since but sixteen places are set at such affairs, the Grants arrive with their uninvited 19-year old son, Jesse, in tow. Anxious confabulations ensue. Jesse flatly refuses to dine other than with his parents and vows to return to London, a threat the Queen is willing to test. Dinner-table diplomacy conquers the moment and, despite injured feelings, The Court Circular records that "Mr. Jesse Grant" is listed among the Queen's guests. Nonetheless, Victoria dismissed the young man in her journal as "a very ill-mannered young Yankee."

The Queen retires early, citing fatigue. Mrs. Grant offers her sympathy, for "I too have been the wife of a great ruler." In her journal, the Queen records her impression of Mrs. Grant as "civil and complementary in her funny American way." The Grants take their leave early the next morning, without seeing the Queen again. It must be said, Grant failed to charm London. Disraeli found him "more honourable than pleasant." Touring Wellington's Apsley House, Grant commented - in unfeigned admiration -- that the late Duke had done so much with fewer men and arms than he commanded in America. The remark was attacked as mere boast and drew rebukes; The Times suggested that Grant had "culpably wasted the lives of his men." The Spectator dismissed him as a "very third-rate statesman."

Beyond London, however, Grant was greeted with great crowds, especially in the Midlands, where the Northern cause was the great favorite.  He wrote home appreciative of his reception in England, admitting that "it is more for our country than it is for me."

June 25, 1861 --- "That nasty man is at it again"

Sir John Shelley, MP for Westminster, is cleared of charges of public indecency. He had been accused of exposing himself in the window of his rooms on St. James' Street. On the day of the alleged incident, the street was crowded with people and carriages bound for the Queen's drawing room at St. James's Palace. The landlord opposite, fearing no respectable tenants would countenance such a neighbor, pressed charges.

In Police Court, several women from the flat across the street testify to seeing Sir John "with no trousers on, but loose drawers." To describe Sir John's movements, the ladies are forced to use "gross and indelicate hand gestures." He appeared more than once for one servant recalled telling her mistress, "That nasty man is at it again." He even blew kisses to his admirers.

The charges cause a great stir for the 53-year old Sir John is a respected MP descended both from nobility and the poet, Shelley. He is married though his wife opts to reside in the country. Sir John's valet testifies that the day had been very warm and his master had been in uniform as a Colonel of the Middlesex Volunteers. He had returned to his rooms to change and had been drawn to the window by the commotion outside but, the valet insists, Sir John was clad at all times in light trousers familiar to those who had served in India. Others recall seeing the man in the window and that he behaved "in no respect approaching indecency."

The embarrassing charge may have been part of the continuing feud between Sir John and the American railwayman, G.F. Train. The latter hoped to build a network of horse-trams in London but his first line, along the new Victoria Street, had been a fiasco. The raised rails upset many people, literally. Rival omnibus companies and cabmen also protested and Sir John became their voice. The debate was quite personal and after one slight, Train wrote Sir John vowing, "Make me a written apology or I shall give you publicity you don't like."

After two days of this, the magistrate declares "I must say I do not believe it." Sir John may leave "unstained in character." The Times cheers: "We have seldom been more pleased." Yet questions remain. Even the magistrate admits that the police witnesses seem to be honest women. Sir John was urged to pursue charges against Train, but demurred. The Spectator thought it all "unsatisfactorily explained." Sir John, by the way, quit Parliament at the next General Election.

The sketch, from the Illustrated London News, shows St. James Street, on Drawing Room day, 1853.

June 24, 1855 --- Sunday in the Park

On a brilliant summer Sunday, Hyde Park is the scene of an unusual protest.

Strict Sabbatarians are very close to passing a bill, now before Parliament, to restrict Sunday commerce; for example, no cabs, no museums, and - what rankles most the most - no pubs. For most Britons, Sunday is their only day off and to have their entertainments and movements restricted on that day is not to be abided.

It is a middle-class "mob" in the Park, drawn by placards posted in many pubs which read, "Come see how the rich observe the Sabbath. Be at the Serpentine Sunday at 3 p.m." The crowd, which soon numbers 30,000, targets the wealthy out for a ride in their private carriages, of course unaffected by the proposed law. Rotten Row is blocked by crowds chanting "Go to Church! Go to Church!" Others shout, "Get out and walk and let your slaves rest!" Deliverymen, bound for West End kitchens, with items for sumptuous Sunday suppers, are heckled and abused.

Although rowdy, the demonstrators are for the most part non-violent and quickly won public support. "L. of Kensington Gore," harassed in the Park, takes refuge in his club, writing The Times to declare: "At a time when not a poor wretch in the metropolis might purchase a drop of beer, I obtained for myself (at the club] whatever liquid refreshment I desired."

The following Sunday, even more people crowd the Park with a larger "rough" element attracted by the idea of a row. 600 police moved in, the inevitable melee ensued, even spilling into the Serpentine at one point. 100 are arrested. The Times had had enough, "The People are in the right and Lord Robert Grosvenor (the bill's sponsor] in the wrong." Grosvenor withdrew the bill.

Ernest Jones, the radical editor of The People's Paper, exulted, "Such is the power of the people, if they knew but how to use it." A disappointed Sabbatarian, Lord Shaftesbury blamed the demonstrations on "sedition and infidelity" inspired by Russian agents. A young Karl Marx, in his Neue Order Zeitung, declared - erroneously, as it turned out - "Yesterday, the English revolution began in Hyde Park."