Captain Gawler’s dismission

John Bellenden Gawler (1764-1842) was the life-partner of William’s younger sister Anne, lady Mountnorris. He was the father of her seven children (five Courtenay siblings and two older boys who had been given the surname Annesley), and they lived together in the north of Hampshire (at Ramridge near Andover) as well as in and around London for 40 years or so until her death in 1835. In 1804 Gawler changed his name to John Bellenden Ker.

He was already married when he met William’s sister, and had one child from that marriage: Charles Henry, who was baptised in February 1787 at St Andrew, Holborn (London). Both Charles Henry Bellenden Ker and his father are included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. By 1845 Charles Henry’s mother, Ann Bellenden Ker, was living at 7 South Bank in Regent’s Park (London); the 1851 census records her as a widow and annuitant aged 82, born in Italy, living with a house servant and cook.

It’s not clear how far Anne shared her partner’s interests or how much she contributed to his various publications. Like her husband George Annesley, Bellenden Ker was a fellow of the Linnaean Society (women were not admitted as fellows until 1904) and it was because of his high reputation as a botanist that a Tasmanian shrub (mountain rocket, Bellendena montana) and a mountainous area of north-eastern Australia were named after him. He also had an interest in economics, linguistics and radical politics.

Gawler’s account of his dismissal was published by the Morning Chronicle at the end of 1792, and Charles Fox then raised the matter in the British parliament at Westminster but was not supported by Edmund Burke who had made some scornful remarks about the Society for Constitutional Information in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.

In his Autobiography of a Christian Socialist John Ludlow offers a different explanation for Gawler’s dismissal, one which he most likely heard from Charles Henry Bellenden Ker: “Being a captain of the Guards and silverstick in waiting to George the 3rd, but also a great friend of Horne Tooke’s and of the extreme Whigs of the day, he lost his office, and his commission through the following extraordinary trick: It was in those days the custom, every time the King passed under the archway at the Horse Guards, for four trumpeters, at the command of the officers on duty, to sound their trumpets. Captain Gawler being on duty on such an occasion, bought four penny rolls, took out the crumb from each, and with his own hands stuffed it into the trumpets of his four trumpeters. Then when the King’s carriage came through, he gave the order to sound, when of course no sound came. Captain Gawler meanwhile commanding his men loudly to ‘Blow, rascals, Blow!’ The trick of course came out, with the result above mentioned.”








Copies of the Letters which passed on that Occasion, between that Gentleman and the Officers of the Second Regiment of Life Guards.





(Price Threepence, or Twenty Shillings per Hundred.)





“I have to request that you will be pleased to print the following particulars of the dismission, which I lately received from my situation in his Majesty’s service, as Senior Captain of the Second Regiment of Life Guards. I feel it necessary thus to state these particulars, in order to clear away all misrepresentation of my conduct. Perhaps too, from the nature of this transaction, it is a duty which I owe to the public to make it generally known.

“Yours, &c.








ON Friday the 8th of December instant, Lieutenant Callard, the Adjutant of the regiment, called upon me, and read to me the following requisition. He did not think proper to leave the requisition with me, but he was pleased to furnish me with a copy of every part of it, except the signatures. I have not since had the original requisition in my possession, but I have reason to believe, that I am perfectly correct in my statement of the signatures.

“The officers of the 2d regiment of Life Guards having received information, that Captain Gawler has been admitted a member of one of the Republican Clubs, called the Society for Constitutional Information, and as it appears to them incompatible with his situation as holding a commission in the 2d regiment of Life Guards, a corps immediately about the King’s person, the officers therefore request, that Captain Gawler will withdraw his name and support from a Club, whose principles are evidently republican.”

Felix Buckley,

John Hughes, Captain,

William Mansell, Captain,

Arthur Cuthbert, Captain,

George Callard, Lieut.

R. Isaac Starke, Lieut.

Thomas Rainsforth, Lieut.

Gerald Gosselin, Sub-Lieut.

A. Rous Dottin, Sub-Lieut.

John Buller, Lieut.

All, except General Buckley, Mr. Gawler’s junior officers.

Three officers of the regiment, Lieut. Capper, Lieut. Beresford, and Lieut. Impey, who were present at the meeting at which this requisition was signed, refused to set their names to it, conceiving it to be an unwarantable interference of the corps upon the subject.

On Saturday the 9th of December instant, I waited on Major General Buckley, who is the commanding officer of the regiment, and delivered to him my answer to the requisition.

After he had read the answer, he endeavoured to convince me, that prudential considerations ought to induce me to yield to the requisition; but failing in that object, he then stated to me in substance, that my conduct, if I persisted, might materially affect the interest of the three Gentlemen who had refused to sign the requisition. This suggestion alarmed me on their account, and I requested to be allowed to the Monday following to consider my answer. A few moments cool consideration, after I had quitted General Buckley, convinced me that it was not to be expected, that because those three Gentlemen in their character of judges had happend to entertain a different opinion from their superior officers, that their private interest could in any manner suffer, and therefore, early on the morning of Sunday the 10th of December instant, I returned to General Buckley the answer which I had delivered to him the day before, and which is as follows:

“Captain Gawler having received a paper addressed to him by several of the officers of his regiment, requesting to withdraw his name and support from the Society for Constitutional Information, although he observes, that such paper is signed but by part of his corps, yet he does not hesitate to give an immediate answer to the requisition contained in it.

“By the mere act of becoming a Member of a Society, expressly instituted for purpose of Constitutional Information, he certainly does not consider himself as having departed in any degree from the character of his situation. As an officer in his Majesty’s service, his duty is to defend the Constitution, as by law established, and the sole object to which he is pledged, by becoming a Member of the Constitutional Society, is to promote the knowledge of that same Constitution.

“If in any particular proceeding, a society passes beyond the avowed principle of its union, the persons who compose the majority that decide the measure can alone be responsible for it. It is obvious that the censure which follows such a proceeding cannot attach upon those Members, who being present, when it was determined, opposed themselves to it, nor upon those who, being absent, had not the means of opposition.

“Captain Gawler had not only never been present at any meeting whatever of the Constitutional Society, but has never in any manner given his assent or support to any resolutions adopted by that society.

“Upon the whole, Captain Gawler persuades himself that those Gentlemen who have signed the Requisition will not feel themselves disposed, upon farther reflection, to press their request that he should withdraw himself from the society, since with such a request he cannot comply without acknowledging, what he certainly does not acknowledge—the authority of those Gentlemen, under the circumstances which he has stated, to interfere with him upon the subject.

“If to belong to this Society be in itself objectionable, Captain Gawler is informed that the objection applies to many other officers, and to many persons of rank and condition in the country.

“Captain Gawler has ever professed, and now repeats, that so long as he remains in his Majesty’s service, he shall think himself bound by his duty to shed his last drop of blood in defence of his Majesty’s person and government.”

On Tuesday, the 12th of December instant, the Adjutant of the regiment delivered to me the following intimation:

“The Officers of the 2d regiment of Life Guards have received Captain Gawler’s answers to their requisition; they had determined, before they applied to Captain Gawler, that the only substantial proof he could give to his principles being such as he has represented them, would be to withdraw his name and support from the Society in question; but as Captain Gawler has not thought proper to comply with the wish of his corps, they have resolved to lay the whole transaction before the Colonel of the regiment, with their proceedings thereon.”

On Saturday the 22d of December instant, I received a note and enclosure from General Buckley, of which the following are copies:

“Major General Buckley presents his compliments to Mr. Gawler, and incloses the orders given to the 2d regiment of Life Guards by Lord Amherst this day.”

 Grosvenor-street, Dec. 14, 1792

Lord Amherst’s orders, Dec. 14. 1792.

Parole, Lincoln.

“The King has been pleased to make the following promotion in the 2d regiment of Life Guards.

“Lieutenant Callard, Captain, vice Captain Gawler, who is permitted to receive the price of his commission.

“Cornet and Sub-Lieutenant Gosselin, Lieutenant.”

This official notice of my dismission was the only information I received on the subject, subsequent to the intimation of the subscribing officers, that they had resolved to lay the whole transaction before the Colonel of the regiment.


Staines, Dec. 22, 1792.



In 1807 Bellenden Ker was the second for sir Francis Burdett in his duel with James Paull; his account of this episode was published in the Annual Register for 1807 and republished in the second volume of John Gideon Millingen’s History of Duelling.

“On Saturday morning. May 5, about half-past five o’clock, Sir Francis Burdett’s servant came to me with a note from Sir Francis, desiring me to come to him instantly to Wimbledon, with a pair of pistols, as he had been called upon; but did not say by whom. I could procure none, after trying at two officers of the Guards, and at Manton’s, but found none fit for the purpose. It occurring to me that going thus from place to place for pistols, might at last be the occasion of bringing on more notice than I wished, I determined to proceed without them, thinking that those who called upon him must have a pair at least; and that if it was necessary they might serve both parties. I arrived at Sir Francis Burdett’s house, at Wimbledon, about eight o’clock, having been obliged to wait more than two hours for a chaise. He was gone on to the King’s Arms, Kingston, having left a note for me to follow him there in his carriage. On entering Kingston, I saw Mr. Paull in a coach, accompanied by another person, and a servant on the coach seat. He called out to me on passing his carriage, and said something that I did not distinctly hear; but I think he advised me not to proceed into the town, as the affair would be blown. I asked him where the inn was, and went on.

“As soon as I entered the room where Burdett was sitting, a person appeared, who had followed me. On his entrance I asked Burdett who he was. He said it was Paull’s second. I then said, “Whom have I the honour to address?” “My name is Cooper.” “Do you know him, Burdett?” “I have no doubt Mr. Paull has appointed a proper person to meet me.” “Sir, sir, sir,” was Mr. Cooper’s answer. I then said, as Burdett desired, that we should immediately follow them, if they proceeded to Coombe Wood, which seemed to be a proper place for meeting.

“After Burdett had given me some letters and memorandums for different friends, and explained to me the subject of Mr. Paull’s demands, we proceeded to the place appointed; where, ordering the carriages to stop for us, we went into the wood to a considerable distance. I fixed on a proper spot. During our walk Mr. Paull frequently addressed me on the subject of the quarrel. He said he was sure I had not heard it rightly stated, and wished me much to hear him. I always replied that I had heard the whole from my principal, and that I placed implicit confidence in what he said; for if I could not have done that, I should not have accompanied him there; and that, from all I heard and read concerning the matter, it was my decided opinion that Burdett was the person most entitled to consider himself as ill-used; but that, at all events, an apology from him was out of all question, and that I would rather see him shot than advise him to so disgraceful an act. As Mr. Paull did not seem to have at all placed his opinions, or case, in the hands of his second, I found it in vain to talk to him on the subject of an accommodation. After we had stopped, I asked for the pistols, which were produced by Mr. Cooper, who declared that he had not expected things would have taken this turn. I asked him if he expected I should advise, or Burdett would consent to disgrace himself. I then told him we had been unable to obtain pistols, and expected he would consent, as well as Mr. Paull, that we should use one of theirs. To this they both agreed. He (Mr. Cooper) told me he did not know how to load them; I showed him how, and directed him to load Burdett’s while I loaded Mr. Paull’s. I then asked him what distance he proposed them to stand at; he said he knew nothing about the matter, and left it to me. I measured out twelve paces, and placed the principals at the extremities of the space. I then directed him to give Sir Francis a pistol, and I presented another to Mr. Paull, at the same time assuring him, as I had Mr. Cooper, that Sir Francis came there without the slightest animosity against Mr. Paull; but that he would fire at him as a mode of self-defence. I said besides to Mr. Paull,—that I hoped he was thoroughly convinced that the injury he had received was of a nature not to be satisfied with anything short of attempting the life of my friend, and risking his own. He replied,—he must do so, unless he had an apology.

“I then asked them if they would agree to fire by a signal I would make by dropping my handkerchief? They each did agree to it. I placed myself about four yards on one side the centre of the space between them; while Mr. Cooper, on giving the pistol to Sir Francis, retreated very precipitately behind a tree at some distance. On a signal being made, they fired together, but without effect. I then took Mr. Paull’s pistol from him, and said, “I hope, Sir, you are now satisfied.” He said, “No; I must have an apology, or proceed.” I said, “To talk of an apology is absurd, and quite out of all question.” I then reloaded the pistols, and gave them as before. I again addressed Mr. Paull as I had at first. He answered with warmth,—that he must have an apology, or proceed; and called God to witness that he was the most injured man on earth. Mr. Cooper was then to make the signal; but he stood so far out of the way, that Sir Francis could not see him, although he had already called to him during his retreat, and begged him not to go so far off, and to come forward, or words to that effect. At last I saw Sir Francis could not see Mr. Cooper, nor his signal; and upon his making it, I called out, “Fire,” to Sir Francis as soon as I saw Mr. Paull raise his pistol. They did so together, I believe, upon my uttering the words.

“I should observe, that while they were waiting for the signal, I observed that Sir Francis held his arm raised, and his pistol pointed towards Mr. Paull. Knowing this was not with a view of taking any unfair advantage, but the effect of accident, I said, “Burdett, don’t take aim. I am sure you are not doing so; drop your arm, as you see Mr. Paull has his pistol pointed downwards.” Mr. Paull then asked me, why I advised Sir Francis not to take aim. I said—anybody might see that I could only mean for him not to take aim, or prepare to do so, before the signal, and from a desire to see that they were upon equal terms. The consequences of the second shots have been already described. After speaking to each of them, I set off for the carriages. Both were put into Mr. Paull’s. I went on to Sir Francis Burdett’s house, to Lady Burdett and his brother; and also to procure a surgeon at Wimbledon.

“During the transaction not one word passed between me and Sir Francis, except what I said about taking aim. Mr. Cooper has constantly refused to sign any official account, to say where he lives, or what is his situation; which also was repeatedly requested of him before me; nor do I at this moment know anything further about him.”



James Gillray: Loyal Souls, 1797:

James Gillray: Patriots deciding a Point of Honour!, 1807:

John Bellenden Ker is the stout figure standing by the signpost behind ‘Sir Francis Goose’ on the left of the print.


Page history

2021 July 23: first published online.