1804: Buffaloes, Toxophylites and Volunteers

One spring when Elizabeth Ham came from her home at Weymouth to Exeter on a visit to the Grey family she stayed at Haven Bank, the new house that had been built for them ‘on a small Knoll on the banks of the river opposite the city, which towered upwards from the water’s edge, crowned by its beautiful Cathedral. There was then no other dwelling near and the towing path the only thing between us and the river. Often on a calm evening Anne Grey and I used to amuse ourselves by answering to conversations that were borne to us from some street in the City, secure from detection even when our words were distinctly replied to.’

Her friends took Elizabeth on a couple of excursions, one of them to Powderham. ‘We went in one of those open, cane-bodied Sociables then in fashion and a very pleasant drive we had.‘ Crossing the ridge of Haldon, they arrived at Mamhead, seat of the earls of Lisburne, where the housekeeper received them. From there the three girls – Mary Grey, Betsey Grey and Elizabeth Ham – ‘set out for a walk to Powderham Castle, then the seat of Lord Courtney.

Elizabeth was probably familiar with the third viscount’s appearance from his visits to Weymouth with his sisters during ‘the season’ when king George III was in residence. ‘When they did not go to the Theatre, the Royal Family always walked on the Esplanade till dusk. Of course this was the grand promenade of the day; everyone dressed to the extent of their means, and a great many beyond it.

William ‘was the last of that branch of the family, and, I think, of ten children, all the rest girls. From the fair and delicate appearance of His Lordship, and from the circumstances of his being always seen with his sisters, and never with any gentlemen, I wove my own romance about him, and set him down to be really a daughter too. He or she lived mostly, and died, abroad. The sisters were all very beautiful.‘ […]

‘It was a very warm day but we enjoyed our ramble through the beautiful Park and grounds nevertheless. There were some Buffaloes in the Park but they did not frighten us. It was there I first saw the China or monthly rose growing in the open air. It covered the whole front of a beautiful Pavilion and was in full flower. I thought I had never before seen anything so pretty. […]

‘We went from Powderham to a Farm-house some three or more miles off, where we were to meet Mrs. Grey and dine. We were sadly tired and after dinner stole away to a hayfield, where we laid ourselves on the dry hay and had a good sleep. We were so refreshed by our nap that, after tea, nothing would serve us but a walk to Dawlish, some three miles farther. It was then a quiet, secluded little watering place. When we returned to our party it was time to start for Mamhead House, which place we left the next morning in the old Sociable.’

Elizabeth’s excursion took place around 1800, some time between the battle of the Nile in 1798 and the treaty of Amiens in 1802. When the short-lived ‘peace of Amiens’ came to an end, Napoléon began to assemble l’Armée des côtes de l’Océan (Army of the Ocean Coasts) for an invasion of the United Kingdom. The large camp at Boulogne with its associated flotilla could be seen from the south coast of England.

This new threat prompted a revival of the volunteer associations which had been formed in the previous decade. English volunteers were generally organised by their ‘hundred’, an old administrative grouping of parishes and division of counties. In Devon, Exminster hundred reached northwards as far as the village of Ide and southwards beyond Powderham down to Dawlish and Teignmouth on the coast.

William was appointed lieutenant-colonel commandant of the Loyal Exminster Hundred Regiment of Volunteers with William Rainsforth as major and Thomas Choron as ensign. Rainsforth was a professional soldier who had served as a British officer in north America. The Exminster volunteers met for reviews and parades, training exercises and sham battles with other associations. Queen Charlotte viewed the corps when it was encamped in Dorset at Maiden-castle. She noted in her diary that the men’s uniform (designed perhaps by William) was ‘Blue & Yellow & Silver, & their Caps or Helmets Black with Scarlet Ribbons or Feathers.’ In 1802 the loyal association won a silver medal for excellent shooting but in June 1808 their firing was distinctly less successful.

‘The following circumstance occurred with the Exminster Volunteers, on his Majesty’s birth-day. The regiment having paraded in Powderham Park, Devonshire, under the command of Major Rainsworth, received their ammunition, and were then marched on the hill near Lord Courtenay’s Belvidere for the purpose of firing three vollies, which should “make the welkin resound.” The muskets were primed and loaded – the word was given to make ready! — present! when one of the privates exclaimed, “Sir, we have got no flints.” On this an examination took place, and it was found that not a single man had a flint in his musket, the hammers being merely charged with a small piece of wood. What was to be done? the flints were locked up in store in the Belvidere, the person who kept the key was not to be found, and the door could not be forced. Under these circumstances, the Commanding Officer thought it proper to take the only step which prudence could dictate, and that was, to order every man to draw his cartridge, and throw the priming from the pan; which being done, the regiment then went through the motions, and reserved the real fire for a future opportunity.’

That item was presented as part of a ‘Feast of wit‘ for readers of ‘The Sporting Magazine; or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of the Turf, the Chase, and every other Diversion interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise and Spirit.‘ It was not the first time that lord Courtenay’s belvidere had appeared in the pages of the magazine. A few years earlier, in the autumn of 1804, it had featured in an article by ‘T. N.’: ‘A ramble from Exeter to the Back-waters and Exmouth, with a return to Chudleigh.‘ This was published in two parts, with the first part entitled ‘The Toxophylites‘.

‘A band of Western Bowmen had obtained permission from Lord Courtenay to come with horn, and with hound, to hunt the deer for a whole day, on any part of his Lordship’s domain, from Exmoor to Exmouth; and, if they should kill the stag in the right Robin–Hood stile, the game to be dressed at his Lordship’s expence, and served up at the Star-cross Tavern, and the archer who struck the venison to death should be master of the feast. This company of merry Toxophylites overtook me in my way towards Powderham Castle, between Exminster and Kenton; they were all on horseback, richly dressed in their uniforms, and completely equipped with bows and with arrows. The Captain of the band was singing the old ballad of Merry-Sherwood, and all the rest joined in the burthen of the song. I kept pace with these jolly sportsmen for near a mile, and then turned off towards the sea-bank, opposite Topsham, wishing to make myself acquainted with the manner of admitting vessels of commerce to the Back-waters of Exeter, so much and so justly the boast of that city.

‘There were about thirteen ships waiting within the bar for the tide to carry them to the flood gates of the canal, when the craft with the trade from London claimed their right to be first admitted. This commodious, and charming aqueduct, is near four miles in breadth. The toll is paid at the entrance, to a fraternity called the Chamber of Exeter, under whose government the whole is regulated, and kept in perpetual repair. With the help of locks, through these waters, the trade is conducted with great speed and safety. […]

‘From the lower mouth of this canal, I passed the Broad-waters of the Ex, and landed at Topsham, a long straggling street, chiefly inhabited by fishermen, and others engaged in navigation and commerce; it is exceedingly ill paved, and most repulsive to the tender feet of indulgence.

‘Topsham is a place which has little or nothing to recommend it; for, excepting their females, their French brandy, and their fish, the people have nothing to tempt a traveller for one night to rest among them.

‘However, on quitting Topsham, the scene changes, the traveller is again put in spirits by a foot-road, and a grand variety of charming objects through a long chain of villages to the sea. Georges Clyst, Woodbury, and Limpstone, have much to recommend them; they are the foot-ways of health, and the lands of fertility.’

Lord Heathfield, a descendant of the Elizabethan mariner sir Francis Drake, lived near Lympstone at Nutwell but the rambler passed this house without comment: he had, it seems, confused both Walter Raleigh with Francis Drake and Withycombe with Widecombe where he expected to find ‘an ancient mansion‘ of the Drake family. Before arriving at Exmouth he extricated himself from this tangle with a bold patriotic flourish in honour of Drake: ‘Yes! while the British flag rides triumphant, and with untarnished splendour, around the repulsive shores of his unconquered country.’

‘We now rise to the high grounds of Exmouth, one of the pleasantest summer retreats on the southern shores of England; and where the rationally polite may find every accommodation to the height of their wishes.

‘Respecting sea-bathing, here is the clear, the uncontaminated saline. Thanet, Brighton, Bognor, have their charms, but Exmouth has those serene delights most engaging to a susceptive mind. Quiet, mingling with commendable pleasures, are at all times of the season to be found; and cheerful health, in her spray-washed sandals, constantly frequents these samphire covered cliffs.

‘—Many ravishing objects are seen from the high lands of Exmouth. The perforated rock below Dawlish, when the sun has passed the meridian, is a fine picture of rude nature, as is my Lord Courtenay’s park and castle of polished art. To the northward, the Cathedral church of Exeter rises majestically grand in the landscape; and to the eastward, that rapidly declining specimen of Saxon magnificence, Corfe Castle, terminates the view. Governor Paulk’s pillar, and my Lord Courtenay’s look-out, are pleasing objects; but the most brilliant of the whole is the British Channel, when the blocading squadrons shew themselves on the aquatic horrizon: while the commerce of England, outward bound and returning from many parts of the world, contribute to awaken a sensation not easy to be described; and at the close of day to behold the surrounding beacons is a spectacle awfully grand.

‘Descending to the beach, I hailed a fisherman returning to Topsham, who, for one shilling, landed me at Lord Courtenay’s park and gave me a fine pair of soles into the bargain: having a recommendation to view the internal beauties of this celebrated mansion, I presently entered Powderham castle. […]

‘From whatever point we behold the castle of Powderham, it exhibits a fine silvery feature in the landscape, insomuch, that it has been improperly called “The Lily of the Vale.” The front towards Exmouth has been considerably enlarged, after a modern fashion, and opens to one of the finest sheets of water in the universe; but the greater part retains its ancient consequence, its narrow windows, Norman battlements, peep-holes, &c.

‘In one of the largest and loftiest rooms of the castle his Lordship has several fine pictures; among the best, I observed the Tribute Money, by Rubens; Charles the first and his Queen, by Vandyke; Mr. Montague in his Turkish habit, and a very fine picture by Schnieder; over the chimney piece, in a most supurb frame [sic], Lord Courtenay, by Cosway; with some good shipping, and several pieces of less eminence. While I was here, I had a transient view of the three sister Sylphs of the castle; the first, like St. Cecilia, was playing on her harp: the second, like Ariel, singing to the divine harmony of the chords; and the third, like Penelope, employed in adorning the web of the loom.’

These ‘sister Sylphs‘ were probably Caroline, Sophia and Louisa Courtenay, the last three of William’s sisters to marry.

‘In quitting this palace of enchantments, I turned up the Park; and, having passed through a herd of mischievous buffaloes, and some of the finest deer in England, I was entering a fir plantation, on the brow of the hill near Kenton, when my ear was delighted with the sound of the spirit stirring bugle; the archers had struck the stag, and the poor trembling creature staggered feebly before me, I followed it to the valley where it fell; and the attitude of The stricken deer called to my recollection that charming description of the melancholy, Jaques, in Shakespear’s comedy, “As you like it.” […] The arrow that had pierced half deep between his ribs, bore upright its silvery fletch, and seemed to tremble at the cruel deed its point had done. […]

‘The Bugle again announced the triumph, and the Archers surrounded the expiring beast: he was presently carted and conveyed to Star-cross to have his haunches fashioned for the feast.

The beauties of the morning sky presently disappeared’ and in the afternoon a thunderstorm broke across the estuary but soon rolled away to the east. T. N. ‘left the shore with reluctance, and, after a most pleasant walk of several miles, arrived at Chudleigh, the seat of Lord Clifford, a place well worthy of the traveller’s attention.’ From that market-town he headed across the ridge of Haldon before coming down again into the broad valley of the Exe.

‘Descending through the villages, about night-fall, I passed St. Thomas’s, and, over the new and beautiful bridge, entered again the city of Exeter, and, not a little weary with this day’s exertions, set me down in ease at my inn, the White Hart, South-street, where the waterman I had met in the morning had conveyed my finny purchase; to which, with my landlady, I drew my seat, and finished one of the pleasantest rambles I had experienced since I left the metropolis’.

A few months earlier another stag had been killed at Powderham with a good deal less revelry and merriment. In his old age Henry Thomas Ellacombe, vicar of the Devon parish of Clyst st. Mary, recorded the episode, and Eliezer Edwards used this account in his Words, facts and phrases to explain the phrase ‘Getting into a scrape:

‘The deer are addicted, at certain seasons, to dig up the land with their fore feet, in holes, to the depth of a foot, or even of half a yard. These are called “scrapes.” To tumble into one of these is sometimes done at the cost of a broken leg; hence a man who finds himself in an unpleasant position, from which extrication is difficult, is said to have “got into a scrape.” ‘- Newspaper Paragraph. The Rev. H. T. Ellacombe, M.A, in ‘Notes and Queries,’ Feb. 14, 1880, says that in 1803 a woman was killed by a stag in Powderham Park, Devon. “It was said that, when walking across the park, she attempted to cross the stag’s scrape,’ which he says is ‘a ring which stags make in rutting season, and woe be to any who get within it.’ He confirms his story by a copy of the parish register, which records that ‘Frances Tucker (killed by a stag) was buried December 14th, 1803.’

Charles Palk Collyns had given a different version of this story in his Notes on the chase of the wild red deer (1862). Ellacombe had been born in 1790 at Alphington, not far from Powderham, and may have heard of the incident as a teenager, while Collyns had been born in 1793 at Kenton, even closer to the castle, and was familiar as a child with the deer-park nearby.

‘When quite a lad, I remember a stag in the park at Powderham in Devonshire, the seat of the Earl of Devon, that was a terror to all the boys and girls who occasionally passed through the park; and more than once have I climbed a tree, and remained there for several hours, in order to escape him. I also witnessed his death, after a most melancholy occurrence, which was as follows:

‘Fanny Tucker, a pensioner of the then Lord Courtenay, was daily employed to carry corn across the park to an aviary. “Old Dick,” for by that name was the deer known, knew her time of passing so well, that he almost always placed himself in her track, and received a handful of corn as she went along. It happened one day that the ill-fated woman was earlier than usual, and the deer was not at his post, but on her way back he made his appearance. Alas! she had reserved no corn for Old Dick, and enraged at this, he pierced her through with his horns, and killed her on the spot. Lord Courtenay, of course, had the deer at once destroyed. In the parish register of deaths, the reader will find the following entry:- “1803, Dec. 14th, Frances Tucker, killed by a stag.” A stone in the churchyard also calls the attention of the passer-by to the cause of poor Fanny’s death.

There is no possibility of misidentification here: Collyns certainly knew a red deer when he saw one, but the introduction to his story makes it clear that ‘Old Dick’ was a solitary specimen.

‘I know, from experience, that the stag, when he is confined in parks, and has no companion of his own breed with him, is a most dangerous customer, and would advise those who desire to keep the red deer, never to do so unless they have a herd of them.’

Perhaps the red deer and the buffaloes were gifts, or mythical beasts; perhaps there had been an intention to diversify the stock of cattle in the park by introducing these species. Or, as red deer roam widely, perhaps a group had come down from the moors to Powderham of their own volition as happened about that time at Boringdon, some miles to the west in the parish of Plympton st Mary, where some red deer ‘entered this park a few years ago, and remained with the fallow deer during several months.’ Nor were buffaloes unknown in Devon: in the 1830s Timothy Liveridge Fish kept a couple of them in the grounds of Knowle-cottage at Sidmouth. Perhaps those seen earlier at Powderham had been procured by sir George Yonge during his brief tenure as governor of the Cape Colony from 1799 to 1801.

Whatever the truth of the matter, William Craig Marshall showed neither red deer nor buffaloes in his watercolour painting from around 1800 but groups of fallow deer are pictured grazing peacefully in the park where their offspring can still be seen today from the Exe estuary trail or through the windows of passing trains.


  • Extracts from Elizabeth Ham‘s autobiography, edited by Eric Gillett, were published in 1945 as Elizabeth Ham by Herself 1783-1820. Born in November 1783 at North Perrott in the English county of Somerset, she lived as a young woman for several years in Ireland with her family before returning to England where she became a governess, a unitarian and an author. Her novel The Ford family in Ireland was published anonymously in 1845. Elizabeth died in Somerset at Wick-house, Brislington in March 1859.
  • The lines for Jaques come from act 2, scene 1 of As you like it.
  • John Harvey wrote a ‘Guide to illustrations and views of Knowle Cottage, Sidmouth; the elegant marine villa orné of Thos. L. Fish, esq.’, but this account was given by Theodore Hands Mogridge: ‘The Grounds, about ten acres in extent, have the appearance of a small park. Scattered around are many figures on pedestals, and some foreign animals, whose habits of gentleness admit of their roaming about free and unshackled; among them are Kangaroos, Cape Sheep, two small Buffaloes, Pacas or South American Camels, and several varieties of Deer. Among the Birds are Emews or South American Ostriches, Black Swans, Pelicans, Macaws, Crown and Demoiselle Birds, Gold and Silver Pheasants, Grey Parrots, Peruvian Cockatoos, Paroquettes, &c. with a great variety of small foreign birds in the aviary or in cages.’
  • The reference to sir George Yonge was added on 21 August 2022.
  • In 1803 the engravings from William Craig Marshall‘s two views were published in The Beauties of England and Wales with this note: ‘The annexed Prints were engraved at the expence of Lord Courtenay, who generously presented them to this Work. The nearer view of the house from the park, represents the east front, with a large square tower in the centre, and the new music saloon in the north wing. The other view is taken at some distance, looking across a bay of the river Exe, and is intended to show the situation of the house, with the outline of the country, &c.‘ Perhaps William himself presented a pair of the prints to king George III for his collection. Marshall’s original watercolours still hang at Powderham-castle.


Images (from top):

1782: Charlotte and the calash bonnet

In the years before March 1782 when William’s mother lady Courtenay died, three of her husband’s four sisters had left Powderham to settle elsewhere. Mary, the eldest, had made a home for herself in London at Orchard-street, Portman-square, with mrs. Tarrant as her companion. The two middle sisters had married and each had then moved north to live with her husband at his home: Frances with sir John Wrottesley at Wrottesley Hall in Staffordshire; Lucy with John Cotes at Woodcote in Shropshire. The eldest of lady Courtenay’s daughters, Frances, had married too, starting a family of her own with John Honywood. Only Charlotte, youngest of his sisters, still lived with lord Courtenay and his thirteen unmarried children, the youngest of them just three months old. Born in January 1751, she had reached the age of thirty-one without marrying; it was easy to foresee the roles that a woman in her circumstances would be expected to perform for her brother’s family throughout the next twenty years or so.

We know next to nothing about Charlotte Courtenay’s life in the years before her marriage and not a great deal more about her life in the following forty-four years, firstly as lady Loughborough then from 1801 as the countess and dowager countess of Rosslyn. ‘My aunt‘ as Charlotte Cotes remarked, was ‘in the constant habit of burning all her letters‘. From reports in magazines we do know how she dressed on some occasions. In 1793 at the grand reception held on 18 January at st. James’s palace in Westminster to mark queen Charlotte’s official birthday, she wore ‘A white satin gown and coat. The petticoat richly embroidered with goldstones‘. At the reception in 1795 her dress was ‘A brown and gold stuff body and train; the petticoat very richly embroidered in gold and stripes of coloured chenille.’

Her mother died in 1761 when Charlotte was ten years old. In the following year her brother married Fanny Clack while her father, just a few days before his death, was created viscount Courtenay and she became styled ‘the honorable’ Charlotte Courtenay. In 1772 she reached the age of twenty-one years and was entitled by her father’s will to receive a legacy of £4,000.

In 1773 she and the bride’s father witnessed the wedding between Wilbraham Tollemache and Anna Maria Lewis (earl and countess of Dysart from 1799). In October 1780 William Beckford wrote her a letter from Bologna and in February 1781 drafted another letter while he was at Paris. In the summer of 1782 Charlotte joined a house-party at Elford in Staffordshire where she met a clever and ambitious lawyer and politician, a childless widower eighteen years her senior: Alexander Wedderburn, lord Loughborough, chief justice of the common pleas. The couple met again soon after and speedily reached an agreement to marry, which they did in a quiet way on 12 September, a little short of six months after lady Courtenay’s death. Their marriage lasted until Alexander’s death in 1805.

In December 1788 her brother died in London and her nephew William became the third viscount Courtenay. In the following July William reached the age of twenty-one but, as the family and household were still in mourning, his coming-of-age celebrations were postponed until the summer of 1790. By that time he had already taken his seat in the House of Lords at Westminster.

The historian Edward Gibbon described Charlotte as ‘not handsome, but very pleasant‘; ten years later in 1792 the wit James Hare wrote to Georgiana duchess of Devonshire, ‘As to ill natured or foolish paragraphs in newspapers, you would not have escaped them if you had been as cold as Ly Loughborough‘. In January 1793 her husband was appointed lord chamberlain and in its issue for October of that year The Gentleman’s Magazine, under the heading Births: Lately, noticed: ‘The Lady of the Lord Chamberlain, a son‘. The boy, who seems to have been Charlotte’s only child, died in the following year.

In February 1797 a small French force landed on the coast of Wales at Fishguard, setting off widespread panic across the kingdom. Another small force landed in August 1798 at Killala bay on the coast of Ireland in support of the risings against British rule. Lawyers from the Inns of Court in London began to form themselves into an association of volunteers to defend their country in the event of invasion.

In June 1798 Charlotte, as the lady of the lord chamberlain, presented the Bloomsbury and Inns of Court Association with its ‘colours’ . The colours were consecrated in the chapel of the Foundling hospital where Thomas Willis delivered a sermon on a text from the biblical book of the prophet Isaiah: ‘When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.’  The sermon was printed soon after ‘at the request of Lord Loughborough‘:

Bedford-Square, June 11, 1798.

Sir, It is much to be wished that your excellent Discourse, replete with Religion, and so very applicable to the present momentous period, should extend its influence beyond the circle wherein it was pronounced.

I therefore make it my request, that the same be printed, for the edification of those who had not the advantage of hearing it.

I have the Honour to be, Sir, With great Esteem, Your obedient humble Servant, Loughborough.

The occasion also prompted Charlotte’s second cousin Willoughby Bertie, earl of Abingdon, to publish what a reviewer in The Gentleman’s Magazine termed ‘a rhapsodical effusion‘. ‘A Letter to Lady Loughborough’ begins: “Your Ladyship having, in the most public and awful Manner, consigned Colours to the Charge of Men of the most laudable Profession, whom you are pleased to compliment for those arduous Exertions in the Service of their Country, which evince their Determination to defend (under Heaven!) our glorious Constitution;” &c.

A year later, on 21 June 1799, king George III made an inspection of ‘the different Volunteer Corps in and about the Metropolis‘. The Loughboroughs had by this time moved from Bedford-square to Bolton-house in Russell-square where they laid on ‘an elegant entertainment‘ for the royal family.

His Majesty arrived there about one o’clock. About an hour afterwards, her Majesty and the five Princesses, accompanied by the Duke of Clarence, came to the Lord Chancellor’s; and the Royal Family then sat down to their collation. About 3, his Majesty again mounted, and proceeded down Guildford-street to the Foundling-hospital.‘ The queen and princesses came in their carriages soon after, then ‘the whole Royal Family alighted, and viewed the children’s apartments, &c. which occupied nearly an hour.’

In 1801 Loughborough lost his position as lord chancellor but in compensation was created earl of Rosslyn and awarded an annual pension of £4,000. The new earl and countess had soon changed both their town and country residences, moving from Bolton-house to number 12 St. James’s-square and from Hampstead to Baylis, a house at Salt Hill near Windsor, where the royal family passed a good deal of their time at the castle.

When Alexander died at Baylis in 1805, the earldom passed to his sister Janet’s eldest son, sir James St. Clair Erskine. By her husband’s will, Charlotte was given an annuity of £1,200 and entrusted with a legacy of £2,000 for the benefit of Lucy and Charlotte Cotes, ‘as a small Retribution for their Constant kindness and Duty to me‘. Born in 1783 and 1784, the two young women were the only children of lady Rosslyn’s sister Lucy Cotes. Their mother had died in 1786 when the girls were still infants and their father married again in 1794, starting a second family.

As part of the entailed estate, the freehold house in St. James’s-square descended to the new earl ‘but with this Condition that Ly. Rosslyn if she Chuses to reside in it shall have the use of it with all the Furniture Books Linen China Pictures Plate during her life and the House to be kept in repair for her‘. If she chose not to live there, ‘she shall receive in addition to the Annuity given by my Will three hundred pounds Pr. Anm [per annum = annually] and shall have and take to her own use all such Articles of Furniture Books Linen China Pictures Plate in that or any other House of mine as she shall Chuse‘.

Charlotte chose not. The second earl of Rosslyn was soon in residence at number 12 St. James’s-square while the countess-dowager took up the lease of a house in London at Bolton Street, Piccadilly – number 3 where the writer Henry James took lodgings for several years later in the century. Now the dowager countess of Rosslyn, Charlotte lived there with the two Cotes sisters. She mentions her nephew William in her will but we do not know when they last met: in 1811 he was indicted for buggery and began the period of exile from England which lasted until his death.

In 1814 the prince regent recruited lady Rosslyn and her nieces to assist lady Ilchester in supervising the conduct of his unruly daughter, the eighteen-year old princess Charlotte. She nicknamed the countess ‘old Cross Bones‘, referring to the trio as ‘famine & the consequences‘. Lady Rosslyn ‘never seems good humored or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on, & proposing, but seldom agrees, & generally contradicts’. Writing about their winter journey from London to Windsor, the princess complained that ‘her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted.’ She came to acknowledge that the three women had been ‘set on, & that it was not their own inclination’, but she still wanted ‘old famine &c. out of the house’. This was not to happen until the princess was able to form a new household after her marriage on 2 May 1816 with prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The prince regent presented Charlotte and her nieces with jewellery to wear at the wedding: a locket with a cypher in diamonds for lady Rosslyn; one set of amethysts for the Cotes sisters with another of chrysolites (peridots). It seems that Charlotte still maintained her long-standing reputation as a woman who dressed with distinction. ‘I wish it was over‘ wrote the dowager countess of Ilchester, who was also expected to attend the wedding; ‘Lady Rosslyn’s attire I hear, is to be magnifique so I must do my best not to be outdone’.

After the wedding Charlotte returned to Bolton-street, later moving the short distance to Chesterfield-street and a newer house. In May 1817 she set up a trust for Jane and James Campbell and their daughter Charlotte (probably a god-daughter of the dowager countess). In her will of 1818 she requested that her funeral be ‘decent only‘ with ‘no hatchment over my door‘ (hatchments were wooden boards, lozenge-shaped and painted with the heraldic arms of a deceased person, for display on the outside of a house during the period of mourning). She named two of her nephews, the brothers sir John and Henry Wrottesley, as trustees and executors but Henry, who was also named as residuary legatee, was to die before his aunt’s death at the age of 75 years in 1826.

The two Cotes sisters then lived in Mayfair for a while, in Brook-street (number 22). During his frequent visits to London – he was a member of parliament for Shropshire – their father John Cotes stayed nearby at Kirkman’s Hotel (number 43 Brook-street). When Lucy died in 1835, leaving her younger sister as residuary legatee, all three of the prince regent’s gifts probably passed into the possession of Charlotte Cotes. In her will lady Rosslyn declared that she had ‘long since‘ given all her jewels to her two nieces, borrowing them back whenever she wanted to wear them.

A codicil to this will is dated 17 September 1823 at Blackheath (then in the county of Kent) where the princess Sophia Matilda lived in the Ranger’s House. Charlotte Cotes had become bedchamber-woman to the princess and was named as an executor in her will, receiving a legacy of £1,000 when the princess died in 1844. She returned to her native county of Shropshire where she took up residence at Bicton near Shrewsbury with two of her unmarried, younger half-sisters, children of her father’s second marriage: Sophia and Emily Cotes. Her effects were assessed as worth less than £45,000 when she died at the age of 74 in 1859.

Charlotte is depicted as a young child holding the reins of a dog-cart in Thomas Hudson’s group portrait of William’s Courtenay grandparents with five of their children that still hangs at Powderham castle. No formal portrait of her as an adult seems to have survived but the British Museum does hold a satirical sketch which is said to depict her; it has the title of The Calash. A calèche or calash was a light, horse-drawn carriage with a folding, retractable hood that provided shelter for passengers, though not for the driver. Calash bonnets, worn by women, featured the same kind of hood, offering some protection from rain and wind while its stiff hoops prevented the fabric from disarranging any elaborate wig or hairstyle that was coiled and piled beneath.

The museum’s catalogue gives this description: Caricature of a thin lady, walking or standing in profile to the right, wearing one of the enormous hoods known as calashes from their resemblance to the hood of a gig. This entirely obscures her face; the wearer holds the edge of it with a claw-like hand. A slight and amateurish sketch. Beneath it, the collector, R. Bull, has written, ‘Ly Loughborough by ye late Visct Courtney’. 1782? Etching

Like many members of his class, Charlotte’s brother William, the second  viscount Courtenay, was an amateur artist. Some of his works survive in prints from engravings and the British Museum also holds a few of these, depicting Westminster College and dated 1760 when he was still a  pupil there, as well as the original drawing of one: ‘The north east view of the Old Dormitory in 1758 when the new buildings were begun in Deans Yard, Westminster (copied from a scarce print of [?] date‘.

A good deal of mystery surrounds Charlotte’s relationship with William Beckford. Nothing survives to show us her perspective or give her account of matters, and only a few disconnected fragments on his side. The letter he sent her from Bologna in December 1780 indicates that they shared some tastes in music, while the letter he seems to have drafted at Paris in February 1781 is long, intimate and confidential. Later that year, when lady Courtenay was pregnant with her last child, Charlotte accompanied her brother to Beckford’s coming-of-age festivities at Fonthill where she was ‘much admired by the men‘. Perhaps she had assisted the clandestine correspondence between Beckford and her nephew William but there seems to have been a serious falling-out not long after September 1781.

The two may have met over dinner at the Courtenays’ London house in the spring of 1784 and in September both were staying at Powderham, Beckford with his wife lady Margaret and Charlotte with her husband. This caused Samuel Henley to exclaim ‘What, Lady L, that termagant of decorum &c. &c., under the same roof with you, and that roof her brother’s? Verily, wonders are not yet ended.‘ She is most likely to be the unnamed ‘aunt‘ and ‘devil‘ who sought to obstruct the relationship between Beckford and her nephew William.

After 1784 Beckford and Charlotte probably did not meet again, except perhaps in dreams. In September 1787 he had ‘strange dreams‘ in Lisbon: ‘I was riding with Lady Loughborough on hills which overlooked my plantations at Fonthill, and then was transported to a house of old Lady Ilchester, who showed me herself the apartments‘. His journal suggests some surprise at dreaming of a house that he had not visited since he was a boy but none at the ride with Charlotte.

The Loughboroughs’ house in Hampstead was not far from Maria Beckford’s home at West End, which may explain how Charlotte came to be asking mrs. Beckford to pass a message to her son. In November 1796 Beckford responded in a letter addressed to his mother but clearly intended for the ears or eyes of some third party: ‘I must not forget to tell you on the subject of Lady Loughborough’s Note, and Mr. Livingstone’s Letter, that the Non-payment of Miss Cameron’s pension was wholly owing to my late Agent’s Neglect, that regularity shall be enforced for the future and the Arrears immediately remitted. […] Lady Loughborough, who has always been partial to the family of the Stills, will not be displeased to hear that the Living of Fonthill which I have given John Still is made to him worth 350 a year.

The reference to the Stills is intriguing: the origin and character of Charlotte’s partiality are not obvious. John’s family home was at Clouds, not far from Fonthill, in the Wiltshire parish of East Knoyle. He had several siblings, including his brother James who acted as land agent for two Beckford cousins: Peter at Steepleton and William at Fonthill.

Perhaps Charlotte was not aware that Beckford’s mother had devised her own story to account for the events leading up to the scandal of 1784. To fit with this twisted fiction she had to shift the scene from Fonthill to Powderham at the time when her son and Charlotte were both staying there. Maria Beckford recounted this tale to the painter Benjamin West who some years later relayed it to his colleague Joseph Farington.

West said, that Mr. Beckford’s mother never believed Her Son to have been criminal. She wished Him, she told West, not to visit at Powderham Castle as she was convinced there were persons who wished to injure His reputation & lower His importance. She said the fact was, that Lady Loughborough, aunt to Lord Courtenay, was in love with Beckford, and had a correspondence with Him by letter, while on this visit at Powderham Castle, & Lord Courtenay then a Boy, carried the letters, one of which He so mismanaged that it fell into wrong hands, which Beckford discovering & being very passionate, He went to Lord Courtenay’s room, while He was in bed, it being morning, & locking the door, He horsewhipped Him, which causing the Boy to scream out, His Tutor came to the door & found it locked.  This gave cause for the suspicion & the reports which were soon after circulated. —

No evidence survives to support any part of Maria Beckford’s story. It is inconceivable that Beckford would not have mentioned this episode, if it had occurred while he and lady Margaret were staying at Powderham, in his blithe letter of 13 October 1784 to Samuel Henley.

Farington recorded the conversation with West in his diary for 14 December 1807, adding at the end: ‘I listened to this relation which with many other circumstances was given to Him by Mr. Beckford’s [mother] when at Her desire He visited Her alone at Her House at Hampstead; but I could not but feel the improbability of much of the story, it not at all agreeing with many other well authenticated circumstances, & being in itself difficult to give credit to; and from all I have heard the stories told to clear Mr. Beckford have not been well considered; though on the other hand, it does not appear that there is any proof actually to support the charge against Him.’


Images (from the top)

The peridots are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  An admirable report on the jewels can be viewed online: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/ea_statement_jewellery.pdf

The draughtsman and antiquary  John Carter referred to this drawing in his article on ‘architectural proceedings at Westminster Abbey’ for The Gentleman’s Magazine (vol. 85, part 2, September 1815, p.202).


1814: A house by the Hudson

William’s house in New York stood on a prominent knoll in the north-western corner of the city area, between the Bloomingdale Road and the North or Hudson River.

The road dropped to the north into a valley where the settlement of Manhattanville straddled a small stream. To the west a long wall of cliffs stretched above the shoreline of New Jersey on the far side of the river. Woodland, fields and orchards spread from the road’s eastern side across the Kingsbridge Road towards Haerlem Creek, the village of Haerlem and the Haerlem River. Southward the road ran for a few miles through farmland and then more densely populated areas until it reached the heart of the city and became Broadway.

This is the area where the battle of Haerlem Heights was fought in September 1776 when George Washington led his forces to victory over the British troops who were occupying New York. In the summer of 1814 Great Britain and the USA were again at war but now the positions were reversed: it was Americans who were seeking to protect their city against attack from land and sea by British forces. ‘Patriotic Citizens’ were labouring day and night to complete a line of defences from Haerlem Heights around to Sandy Hook on the New Jersey shore.

The plan for the defences had been devised by a military survey team led by brigadier-general Joseph Gardner Swift. The new works were ‘chiefly constructed by the labour of the Citizens of the City of New York, Long Island, and of the neighbouring Towns near the North River, and in New Jersey. All classes volunteering daily working Parties of from Five to Fifteen Hundred Men. The Fortifications are testimonials of Patriotic zeal.

At the end of the year Swift submitted his report to the Committee of Defence which had been set up by the Common Council of the city. As well as a ‘large and elegantly finished Map of the Haerlem line’, the report included surveys, maps and views both large and small. One of the views features William’s house, suggesting how it may have looked from the south.

Hudson house (2)

The stone tower in the foreground was incorporated into the line of defences and became known as Fort Horn in honour of major Joseph Horn, the militia officer who supervised the works at Haerlem Heights. On the left, above the tower, is a steamboat on the Hudson, perhaps one of those designed by Robert Fulton who lived in New York with his wife Harriet and their children.

Courtenay and Fulton had been acquainted for more than twenty years. As his friend Cadwallader D. Colden noted, Fulton on his first visit to England ‘spent two years in Devonshire, near Exeter’. James Renwick, a member of Swift’s 1814 survey team, was more forthcoming: the young American, who had trained as a painter, lived for that time at Powderham in the castle ‘filled with masterpieces’, ‘occupied in copying the pictures it contains’. In Renwick’s account, when William arrived in New York ‘Suspected and accused of an infamous crime, his birth and title, which have in many other instances served as passports even for vice and frivolity to American hospitality, did not avail him, and every door was closed against him except that of Fulton.’

On the Military Sketch of Haerlem Heights and Plain, drawn for Swift’s report by captain James Renwick, William’s house is marked simply as Courtnay but at some time the property became known as Claremont. In The New York of Yesterday, his history of Bloomingdale, Hopper Striker Mott tells how the trader Michael Hogan named the house ‘after the royal residence at Surrey of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, afterwards King William IV’, but this story cannot be wholly true as the Claremont in England was not Clarence’s house and he did not live there. Extended, adapted and perhaps rebuilt by the Post family later in the 19th century, the Claremont in New York became a popular eating-house which survived until 1951 when the building was destroyed by fire during demolition.


Historical and topographical writers gushed appreciation of Claremont and its setting: ‘an elegant country mansion, upon a most desirable spot’ (Benson J. Lossing); ‘of noble proportions and ample space, with portico, halls and windows, where there is ever abundance of light and air admitted’ (Matilda Despard); ‘The superb view from the knoll on which the mansion stands is surpassingly lovely’ (Hopper Striker Mott); ‘The spacious building bears witness to the enlarged ideas and ample means of the projector, while his taste in selection of locality is amply testified by the grand view which is afforded from every point.’ (Abram C. Dayton).

It’s clear from the maps in Swift’s report that William’s house stood just outside the city’s new defences. From the east to the stone tower above the river there was ‘a line of intrenchments with faces and flanks, crossing the Bloomingdale road to a commanding height on Mark’s grounds, and running along its summit to the bank of the North River, which falls abruptly and nearly perpendicularly to the water’s edge.’

The defences were never put to the test. British forces shifted their attention south to Chesapeake Bay, Washington and Baltimore. In December a peace treaty was agreed at Ghent between the two countries but it was several weeks before news of this crossed the Atlantic, and fighting continued in Louisiana where American forces won a famous victory in January 1815 at the battle of New Orleans.

Swift completed his final report to the Committee of Defence on 31 December 1814. Unable to find the document in 1889 when he was preparing his local history of New York and Vicinity during the War of 1812-’15, R. S. Guernsey sent a letter to the prolific author Benson J. Lossing who replied:

‘I have General Swift’s Report of the Fortifications on Manhattan Island in 1812-15, accompanied by many drawings of them, maps, etc.,etc.

‘When I was preparing my ‘History of the War of 1812-15,’ I found in the garret of the Hall of Records, in the City Hall Park, this report, covered thickly with dust and cobwebs and among papers mutilated by mice. I called the attention of Mr. Valentine, then Clerk of the Common Council, to the report, and asked for the privilege of taking it home with me for use. It was granted, with the additional privilege of keeping it as long as I please. ‘It will be safer in your hands than left to the careless custodians of it, as you see how they neglect such things,’ said Mr. Valentine.’

After a loan of nearly 30 years Lossing returned the report which was then deposited with the New York Historical Society. Guernsey included a transcript of Swift’s verbal text in his history, along with the view of Courtenay’s house. The whole report is now available online, finely presented by the New-York Historical Society.

Images from the top

The map and watercolour come from Swift’s report, pages 19 and 24:



The oil painting of the Claremont dates from around 1855 and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York: Accession Number 54.90.169.

1811: A noble lord absconds

Two hundred years ago, in the first weeks of the Regency, John Hepburn and Thomas White were executed in London.

Hepburn, in his forties, was an army officer; White, just 16 years of age, a drummer in the Guards. They had been arrested after the police raid on the White Swan public house in Vere Street, tried and found guilty of buggery. The Prince Regent declined to grant them pardon and on the 7th of March 1811 the two men were hanged in public before a large crowd of spectators. One of the Regent’s brothers, the duke of Cumberland, was there along with lord Sefton, lord Yarmouth (son of the Regent’s married mistress, lady Hertford) and ‘several other Noblemen’. Lord Courtenay was not in their company: William by that time was safely far away from England.

Later in the same month, at the court of assize in Exeter Castle, the Grand Jury of the county of Devon indicted a pair of local men for committing a felony at Powderham in December 1808: ‘that detestable and abominable crime (not to be named among Christians) called Buggery’. On the 16th of March the sheriff of the county was commanded to:

‘take the said William Viscount Courtenay and William Fryer if they shall be found in his Bailiwick and them safely keep so that he may have their bodies before the Justices of our said Lord the King assigned to hold the next assizes’.

The judge sir Alan Chambre, sheriff Arthur Champernowne and members of the Grand Jury all knew that William Courtenay, even if arrested, could not be tried by a jury of commoners at a court of assize. As viscount Courtenay, he was a member of the peerage of Great Britain and, until 1948, British peers charged with a felony were tried by their peers in the House of Lords at Westminster. Such trials did not happen often: there had been only two since 1760 when earl Ferrers, found guilty of murder, was hanged.

Felonies were divided into two classes. Some, such as bigamy and manslaughter, were ‘clergyable’. A peer found guilty of such a crime would pay a fee and escape any further punishment. This happened in 1765 with baron Byron of Rochdale and again in 1776 with the duchess of Kingston.

Other felonies such as treason, rape and murder were ‘not clergyable’. For these the sentence was invariably death, although a peer found guilty might later be pardoned: after the Jacobite uprising of 1745, king George II pardoned one of the four Scottish lords found guilty of treason. Buggery was another felony ‘not clergyable’.

In 1811 the House of Lords intervened before the summer session of the Devon assizes. At parliament in Westminster on Thursday the 13th of June Jacob Pleydell-Bouverie, earl of Radnor, said that he proposed to ‘move for the copy of an indictment against a Noble lord who had absconded’. Lord Ellenborough, the Lord Chief Justice, observed that ‘much difficulty would obtain in respect to his Lordship’s motion, for want of a precedent’.

The difficulty had been overcome by the following Tuesday when the Lords ordered that the ‘Bill of Indictment, found by the Grand Jury of the County of Devon, at the last Assizes, against William Viscount Courtenay, for a Felony not clergyable, be removed before this House, and that a Writ of Certiorari be issued under the Great Seal for that Purpose’.

John Follett, the Clerk of the Assizes of the Western Circuit, duly delivered the bill of indictment ‘with all Things touching the same’ and on Friday the 12th of July 1811 ‘the same was read’:

‘The Jurors for our Lord the King upon their Oath present that The Right honourable William Lord Viscount Courtenay late of the Parish of Powderham in the County of Devon not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the twelfth day of December in the forty ninth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord George the third by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King Defender of the Faith with force and arms at the parish aforesaid in the County aforesaid in and upon one William Fryer then and there being feloniously did make an assault and then and there feloniously wickedly Diabolically and against the Order of nature had a venereal affair with the said William Fryer and then and there feloniously did carnally know him the said William Fryer and then and there feloniously wickedly diabolically and against the order of nature with the said William Fryer did commit and perpetrate that detestable and abominable crime (not to be named among Christians) called Buggery Against the form of the Statute in such case made and provided and against the Peace of our said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity’

Just as John Hepburn had been charged with ‘consenting & permitting’ Thomas White to commit the crime of buggery with him, so William Fryer was charged with consenting to an ‘assault’ by William Courtenay. That is, in both cases the two men had been having consensual sex with each other.

The bill of indictment continues with the charge against William Fryer:

‘And the Jurors aforesaid upon their Oath aforesaid do further present that the said William Fryer late of the Parish aforesaid in the County aforesaid labourer at the time of the committing of the felony aforesaid by the aforesaid Right honourable William Lord Viscount Courtenay in form aforesaid then and there feloniously was consenting with the aforesaid Right honourable William Lord Viscount Courtenay that he the said Right honourable William Viscount Courtenay the detestable and Sodomitical Crime aforesaid with him the said William Fryer then and there in form aforesaid should commit and perpetrate Against the form of the Statute in such case made and provided and against the Peace of our said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity.’

The bill was read to the House of Lords in the midst of debates on lord Stanhope’s Bank Notes Bill, and there the legal process paused. William Courtenay was not tried for buggery, either in 1811 or later.

Powderham Park, Exmouth, engraved by E. Finden 1836 by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield 1793-1867

It would be good to know what became of William Fryer. A man of that name was charged in March 1815 at Winchester assizes with ‘unnatural crimes’ and the theft of rum. The 1861 census records a William Fryer in St Marylebone, a widower aged 72 and born in Kenton, a parish neighbouring Powderham, who would have been aged 19 in 1808.

William Courtenay had crossed the Atlantic before the March assizes to take refuge in America, far beyond the reach of English justice. In its edition for September 1811, the European Magazine reported:

‘Lord Courtenay has taken some ground about six miles from New York, on which he is erecting a splendid mansion. He has launched a grand carriage with a suitable equipage, but sees no company.’

The 1811 bill of indictment with the writ of certiorari is held in the UK’s Parliamentary Archives: record HL/PO/1/52/2.

The Grand Jury at Exeter Castle in March included five baronets and two members of the House of Commons as well as 16 other gentlemen – all ‘good and lawful Men of the said County of Devon’. The writ lists the jurors in this order:

  • Sir William Pole Baronet
  • Sir Stafford Henry Northcote Baronet
  • Sir Thomas Dyke Acland Baronet
  • Sir John Lemon Rogers Baronet
  • Sir John Kennaway Baronet
  • Arthur Howe Holdsworth Esquire
  • Albany Saville Esquire
  • John Burridge Cholwich Esquire
  • Raymundo Putt Esquire
  • Samuel Kekewich Esquire
  • John Bulteel Esquire
  • Ayshford Wise Esquire
  • James Coleridge Esquire
  • John Brickdale Esquire
  • Samuel Frederick Milford Esquire
  • Richard Pine Coffin Esquire
  • Baldwin Fulford Esquire
  • Paul Treby Treby Esquire
  • Pierce Joseph Taylor Esquire
  • Richard Hall Clarke Esquire
  • William Tucker Esquire
  • George Warwick Bampfylde Esquire
  • John Morth Woolcombe Esquire

At the time of the assizes Arthur Howe Holdsworth and Albany Saville were members of parliament for Devon boroughs: Holdsworth for Dartmouth, Saville for Okehampton.


George Cruikshank: Merry Making on the Regents Birthday 1812.

The regent is dancing with his current mistress, lady Hertford, and trampling on a petition for mercy which he has already rejected. Joseph Thompson, the condemned man, was hanged for forgery, leaving a wife and three children who are lamenting at the foot of the gallows. On the left the Lord Chamberlain (lady Hertford’s husband) is saying ‘Curse these French horns‘ while reviewing the Order of the day which begins with ‘Breakfast | 2 to be HUNG at Newgate‘. The other person to be hanged that morning was Catherine Foster, condemned to death for making false oath. On the right, the words from the man with children read: ‘If Rich Rogues like poor ones were for to Hang it would thin the land such numbers would Swing upon Tyburn Tree.’


Edward Finden: engraving after an original drawing of Powderham Park taken by Clarkson Stanfield for Stanfield’s Coast Scenery, 1836.


1783: Isabella Courtenay and her niece

In the summer of 1781, in the nineteenth year of their marriage, William’s parents became grandparents when Frances, the eldest of their children, gave birth. Frances Courtenay had married her cousin John Honywood and the couple’s first child was named after the two grandmothers – Frances for lady Courtenay and Elizabeth for her widowed sister Honywood who lived at Alphington, between Powderham and Exeter in Devon.

As was the way of things for most of her married life, lady Courtenay herself was pregnant when her grandchild was born. She had given birth the year before to Sophie, her twelfth daughter, and now she was carrying Louisa who was to be her last child, born at the family’s London house on Christmas Day.

Louisa was baptised at Powderham in January but the family was soon back in London so that lord Courtenay could attend parliament. After the war in North America had ended in victory for the Thirteen Colonies and their French and Spanish allies, the British government was in crisis. The prime minister had resigned, the opposition was preparing to take power and king George III had drafted a letter of abdication:

‘His Majesty therefore with much sorrow finds he can be of no further utility to his native country which drives him to the painful step of quitting it for ever.’

In the midst of all this excitement lady Courtenay’s death in March 1782 passed almost unnoticed. She died before any more of her 50 or so grandchildren were born.

Several years later, in 1800, the Gentleman’s Magazine published a letter from ‘Investigator’ in which he recalled a visit to Powderham:

‘There were also at that time at large in the park a nice breed of pyed pea-fowls, in which the late lady Courtney, whose prudence and good conduct in her once unexpected high situation was always exemplary, took great delight.’

The family observed a year of formal mourning, both in their dress and in the style of hospitality and entertainment at their houses. The marriage in September between lord Courtenay’s youngest sister, Charlotte Courtenay, and lord Loughborough could not be celebrated at Powderham or any of the other houses lived in by the family but took place near the home of her sister Frances Wrottesley in Staffordshire.

Throughout that year political crisis had continued at Westminster. The new administration had been forced out of office and was about to be replaced by an unhappy and short-lived coalition of its opponents. By the beginning of March 1783 the Powderham family was back in London although lord Courtenay had not yet resumed attendance at parliament.

The family’s London house was 16 Grosvenor Square – on the north side, between Brook Street and Upper Brook Street. Lord Courtenay’s father had bought the lease in 1755 while he was still sir William Courtenay, a baronet and one of the members of parliament for the county of Devon.

One evening lady Honywood was visiting with her daughter. They were sitting by a fire with Isabella, the third of lady Courtenay’s children, when a spark flew out, or perhaps the poker accidentally fell from the grate. Within seconds Isabella Courtenay’s dress was aflame:

‘she was so miserably burnt before any assistance could be procured, that she died at two o’clock next morning in the greatest agonies. No person was in the room when the melancholy accident happened except her sister, Lady Honywood, and her child, who were not capable of affording any assistance, the former falling into fits. The young lady, when her cloaths caught fire, ran out of the room, and from room to room, without meeting with any one to give her the least aid, until it was too late to overcome the flames. It is generally thought her immediate death, however, was owing to the fright.’

As with other publications which reported the accident, the Annual Register continued with advice to other ladies about how best to deal with an event of this kind:

‘In such cases, the first thought should be to avoid running about; to fall down and roll one’s self up in the carpet, or in the bed-quilt, as the safest and most certain expedient; but the horror and trepidation are generally such as to prevent the mind from taking the necessary steps for deliverance.’

Isabella, ‘who was most elegantly accomplished, and had almost completed her 18th year’, was the first of lady Courtenay’s children to die. She was buried at Powderham a year after her mother.

In the next spring the king and his new prime minister, the younger William Pitt, had secured a major victory in the general election for the British parliament. Sir John Honywood, who had inherited a baronetcy from his grandfather in the same month as his daughter Frances Elizabeth was born, became one of the new members of the House of Commons, returned by the 100 or so electors of the Kent borough of Steyning. During the summer of 1784 he visited the studio of sir Joshua Reynolds to have his portrait painted, alongside a large and glossy dog. In the same season sir Joshua painted lady Honywood with her daughter.

Reynolds, Joshua, 1723-1792; The Honourable Frances Courtenay, Lady Honeywood (b.1763), and Her Daughter

Frances Elizabeth married in 1802 by which time she had several sisters as well as a brother John. Her husband Aubone Surtees, an army officer in the 11th Light Dragoons, came from a family of wine merchants prominent in the civic life of Newcastle-upon-Tyne; he himself became mayor of the town in 1821. Both are listed in an 1827 directory for Newcastle: ‘Surtees Fanny, gentlewoman’ at 7 Saville Place, and ‘Surtees Aubone, wine, &c. merchant’ with his home at Saville Place and a business address at 14 Sandhill.

Frances became the mother of eight daughters and five sons. In 1851 she was still living at Saville Place with two of her grown-up children – Villiers Charles Villiers, the elder of her two surviving sons, and Augusta Matilda. Aubone lived on for most of the decade, through the Crimean War and the Indian Rebellion, dying in September 1859 at the age of 82. He was buried in the cemetery at Jesmond, in the same grave as his wife.

Frances Elizabeth survived not just her sisters and her brother, sir John Courtenay Honywood, but also his son and successor, sir John Edward Honywood. The young sir Courtenay Honywood had inherited the baronetcy by the time his great-aunt died at the age of 73 in August 1854 at Pigdon Cottage, the Northumberland home of her youngest son Honywood Graham Surtees.

Her uncle William had parted with the house in Grosvenor Square to Richard Howard of Castle Rising (Norfolk) half a century before. It was afterwards renumbered from 16 to 17, and in the 20th century demolished. Both the portraits by Reynolds survive – the painting of Frances Elizabeth with her mother is now in the collection of Bristol City Art Gallery.


Joshua Reynolds: the hon. lady Honywood and her daughter, 1784.


The portrait of sir John Honywood can be viewed online at Historical Portraits archive: