Aug 312016

Time to dust off a blog I did a year ago commemorating the death of a remarkable Frenchman:bougainvilleaEvery so often, I have a complete mental aberration and decide to write something nice about a Frenchman. What has prompted it this time? Looking out the window at the magnificent bougainvillea which has spread across the head of the steps leading from my terrace here in Spain. And yes, I am well aware that the brightly coloured red papery ‘ petals’ are actually bracts, not flowers. The flowers are small, white and insignificant. The plant grows like wild-fire, and has vicious spikes which retaliate if ever you try and prune the beast… a Louis_Antoine_de_BougainvilleBut the point is: it got me thinking about Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville, because he really was a remarkable man.

Yes, he was a thorn in the side of the British (perhaps that is why the plant was named after him!) but he was also a great explorer, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world, and a very talented man. Born in  1729 (the same year as my ancestor Richard) he showed early signs of being a brilliant mathematician, publishing books on calculus. He then packed that in, and joined the French army, seeing service in the French territories of North America during the Seven Years War. 1759 was spent harrying British troops along the St Lawrence River, preventing them from landing, and cutting their supply lines.


He was involved in the battle on the Plains of Abraham  in which Quebec fell to the troops led by General Wolfe, and later became a diplomat, involved in negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Seven Years War. So far, nothing very naval about him. As part of the peace settlement large numbers of Acadians – settlers of French origin who had established homes in what are now Eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces, (such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Price Edward Island ) – were  chucked off their land and forced to return to France. Good old Bougainville felt bad about that, and out of his own purse set up an expedition to re-settle the Acadians…  the “Isles Malouines”. We know them as the Falkland Isles…. Bougainville accompanied the expedition which claimed the islands for France in April 1764. He must have been a tad miffed when the French then did a deal with the Spanish and ordered him to hand control over to the Spanish. It was after all his money which had financed it all, but he was “bought off” to the tune of 700,000 francs, and Spanish the Falklands became. At least until 1766 when Captain Macbride on the frigate ‘Jason’ called by, and announced that it was really a British colony after all….. a BougainvillegIn 1766 he was granted permission to establish an expedition to circumnavigate the world – something no other Frenchman had done before. With two ships called La Boudeuse and  the Étoile  and a crew totalling 330 men (well, 329 actually) he set sail on 15 November 1766.

One of those on board was the botanist Philibert Commercon, who was accompanied at all times by his valet, one Jean Baré (otherwise Jeanne Baret). Female, but always dressed in a man’s clothing. How she managed to conceal her gender from over three hundred randy Frenchmen for eighteen months is a bit of a mystery, but as a twenty-seven year old she was apparently able to masquerade as a young man in Tahiti, which they reached in March 1767.  She later returned to France, the first woman to sail round the globe, and died at a ripe old age in 1807, taking with her to her grave the story of her remarkable life. Bougainville wasn’t the first to discover Tahiti, but he thought he was, since he was unaware that an Englishman called Samuel Wallis on HMS Dolphin had landed there in the previous year. a -Bougainville_Voyage_around_the_World_1772Bougainville published his travel-log as Voyage autour du monde  in 1771, translated into English and re-published the following year as A Voyage Around the World. It created  a sensation, with its description of the noble savages of Tahiti and their idyllic existence.

He didn’t have a chance to put his feet up for long: he played a crucial part in the French victory at the Battle of the Chesapeake, a turning point in the American War of Independence, and which led to the eventual defeat of Great Britain. At the age of 52 he then decided to get himself married, fathering four sons (including one poor blighter lumbered with the name Hyacinthe…) all of whom went on to serve in the French armed forces. In 1782 he got caught up in the Battle of the Saintes in which Admiral Rodney dealt a crushing blow to the French Navy in the Caribbean, led by  the Comte de Grasse. Somehow Rodney failed to press home his advantage, and Bougainville was able to slip through the net, extricating eight ships of the line and sail them to safety. His action prevented the defeat from being a catastrophe – in itself, a sort of victory.

Gillray's caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

Gillray’s caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

He then apparently decided to explore cooler waters, and proposed a trip to the North Pole! The French government was not enthusiastic, and he had to abandon the idea. In 1787 he was made a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1804 Napoleon made him a Grand Officier de la Légion d’honneur . Four years later, Napoleon conferred upon him the title of count (the Comte de Bougainville), and when he died on 31 August 1811 he was buried with great pomp at the Panthéon in Paris. His name lives on – as the plant, as an island in  Papua New Guinea, and in ‘Port Louis’ in the Falklands. I have also had the pleasure of reclining languidly under the Seychelles sun on Anse Bougainville, and very pleasant it was too!

In Britain we remember Captain Cook, who was an exact contemporary of  Bougainville, but I certainly never learned about the French equivalent to Cook when I was at school all those years ago. No wonder we are such an insular and ignorant lot…. Bougainville and La Boudeuse

Aug 252016

1A rather nice gentle caricature, originally by Henry William Bunbury, but engraved by Thomas Rowlandson, showing a group of gentlemen gathered to enjoy a smoke. It was only actually published in 1835, whereas Bunbury had died in 1811, and Rowlandson in 1827. The official title is ‘The Smoking Club’ – and the pencil comment underneath refers to ‘The Commercial Party’.

The print appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and is typical of Bunbury’s kindly observation. The four gentlemen, wreathed in smoke, are smoking clay ‘churchwarden’ pipes, typically with stems up to twenty inches long. The pipes apparently became very popular in the second half of the eighteenth century and had originated in the Ottoman Empire, and were often associated with the Hungarian Hussars – hence their alternative name of ‘Hussar pipe’. In Germany it was known as “Lesepfeife” or “reading pipe,”  – presumably because the long stem took the smoke away from the smoker, enabling the user to read a book without getting smoke in his eyes. The other advantage of the long stem is that it makes for a much cooler smoke.

Why churchwarden? Probably because the church-wardens were responsible for keeping an eye on their church at night, and smoking such a long stemmed pipe left their line of sight clear.

1The stems were incredibly fragile and kept breaking, as shown by the pile of snapped-off stems  at the feet of the smoker shown in this detail from a print by Hogarth. I see that the film The Hobbit has helped  re-popularise the pipe, and the web is full of ‘Gandalf pipes’ most of them made from wood, carved and polished, but some of them are hand-made from white clay. So if you really crave authenticity, have a look at  this site on e-Bay – and make sure that you have your £46 ready!

My ancestor enjoyed a good smoke, and recorded the occasion in his diary, as here:2 “Thursday 27th: Wife and Patty visited Mrs Cooper; Mr Rogers smoak’d a Pipe”


Aug 192016

I have always loved this print by James Gillray showing a fashionably dressed couple trying to cross a London street while avoiding the puddles. It appeared in 1782 and shows Her Ladyship with her hair fashionably plaited and hidden under an enormous hat. She is lifting up her skirt to reveal  her delicate  pair of pins – no doubt because dragging the skirt along the ground would mean that it would immediately act like blotting paper. She has enough ruffles and bows on that outfit to curtain a whole suite of hotel rooms….

Crossing a Dirty Street: 18th centuryThe man is wearing a tricorn hat over his powdered wig, with its be-ribboned queue hanging down at the back. He looks immaculate in his long jacket, showing a shapely pair of  calf muscles encased in white silk stockings, and with his hand elegantly held out to provide support for the Lady.

It is shown courtesy of the Museum of London site, and is entitled ‘Crossing a Dirty Street.’ It is beautifully observed, and just shows that Master James Gillray wasn’t always being cruel….even if this is a bit of an exception!


Aug 142016

lwlpr10740I have always thought that of all the Olympic sports, the triple jump was one of the most comic and ungainly (being ‘old school’ I still know it as Hop, Skip and Jump). So, as our athletes battle it out in Rio, I will take a look at an earlier caricature, entitled ‘Hop Step and Jump’ which first appeared in 1803 when it was published by Thomas Tegg. This impression was slightly later,  as part of G M Woodward’s series of prints in ‘The Caricature Magazine, or Hudibrastic Mirror.’ As usual, my thanks are due to the ever-helpful Lewis Walpole Library.

It shows Bonaparte starting off in Corsica, hopping into France and then, via Ambition and Power, preparing to take a step to Calais. The jump will take the Corsican bandit across The Channel to a certain fate – i.e. being impaled on the sword of our trusty John Bull. Against the waves are the words “From indigence  in Corsica to Affluence in France, From Aspiring Ambition to the summit of Power, From Calais to Dover Where Little John Bull does the Corsican over.”

It is a reminder of how England stood on the verge of invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte – hence the construction of the series of Martello Towers between 1804 and 1812. The authorities built a chain of towers based on the original Genoese Mortella tower (ironically, in Corsica)  to defend the south and east coast of England, Ireland and the Channel Islands against possible invasion from France.  A total of 103 Martello towers were built in England, set at regular intervals along the coast, and nearly four dozen have survived the intervening centuries of decay and stone-pillaging. Most were constructed under the direction of General William Twiss who was born in 1745 and died in 1827. This formidable engineer was responsible for constructing towers along the Kent and Sussex coastline as well as working on the defences at Dover Castle and the Western Heights complex in Dover.

What I had not appreciated was that the same Martello Tower design was repeated in places as far away as Quebec, Bermuda and Sydney – and I seem to recall one at Fort Recovery in the British Virgin Islands.

And as a total aside, who would imagine that in 1896 the Olympic Hop, Skip and Jump  (in Athens) was won by an American called James Connolly jumping 13.71 metres – whereas American Christian Taylor managed a leap of 17.21  metres at London in 2012. Tonight in Rio we will see if anyone can hop, step and jump even further….

Aug 102016
Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

In 1742 William Hogarth was commissioned to paint  a satirical piece about fashion for a slightly eccentric and forceful lady called Mary Edwards. She got a mention in a guest blog about Hogarth which Michael Dean did for me a couple of years ago, which you can find here. She had been born in 1704 and lived in Kensington. An  extremely wealthy woman, she had suffered at the hands of people who had ridiculed her for her lack of fashion sense – so for her, this was pay-back time.

Miss Edwards had reputedly inherited  a vast fortune from her father when she was 24. He was Francis Edwards, a wealthy merchant who lived in the Leicestershire village of Welham. It was said that she enjoyed an annual income of between £50,000 – £100,000, so it was little wonder that she was a magnet for fortune hunters of the day. One was a young Scottish nobleman called Lord Anne Hamilton (named, apparently, after his godmother Queen Anne). He was handsome, profligate, and at 22 was five years younger than Mary. No doubt she thought that he looked rather gorgeous in his uniform as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards. He was however an utterly unsuitable person for the wealthy heiress to fall for. In 1731 they allegedly went through a ceremony of marriage in the Fleet and the following year she gave birth to a son, Gerard Anne. The marriage was a disaster and when he showed rather more interest in spending her money than in attending to her needs, she decided to discard Lord Anne.

Lord Anne Hamilton

Lord Anne Hamilton

This was easier said than done, but she showed a resourcefulness which was rather remarkable. She  was determined to save her fortune for herself and her son, so she apparently bribed the Fleet chaplains to destroy all records of the marriage. She then placed a notice in the register of her local church of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington stating that she was a single woman. No matter that this made her son appear illegitimate – it was a price she was prepared to pay to offload the unwanted husband. I almost feel sorry for his avaricious Lordship.

I had nearly considered including him in the list of rakes and roués in my forthcoming book “In bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire.” *               But somehow he was as much  to be pitied as loathed, so I left him out. There are, after all, others with no redeeming features whatsoever! Lord Anne was completely out-manoeuvred, because he simply had no evidence to show that they ever married. On May 22nd 1734 he accepted defeat and signed a deed returning all Miss Edwards’ property to her and relinquishing all further claims on her. So, she had regained her property empire, her stocks and shares and all her wealth, and when she died on August 23rd 1743, aged only thirty-eight years old,  she left her entire fortune to her son. I will refrain from suggesting that while he may have appeared to have been illegitimate, at least he was a  wealthy bastard…

Lord Anne went on to marry “properly” in 1742, sired a couple of sons and died in France in 1748 at the age of 39.

Mary was a frequent patroness of William Hogarth, and was  arguably the most important supporter that he had in the decade between  1733 and 1743. There is a report that she  purchased Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair, and as well as buying his paintings she and those in her social circle commissioned family portraits. Hogarth had  painted a conventional portrait of Mary in 1742, shown at the top of this blog,  in a rather splendid red dress and sporting some suitably opulent jewellery, and shown courtesy of the Frick Collection. It is an undeniably affectionate portrait, reflecting the close friendship between sitter and artist.

Then there  is this picture by Hogarth showing the Edwards family before the split. A detailed analysis of the picture, and the various constituent elements in it, appears in an article by Maisoon Rehani, Picture Researcher at the Paul Mellon Centre, here. I rather like the suggestion that the dog is actually baring its teeth at Lord Anne, while the small boy is washing a toy soldier – cleansing himself of his father’s military connections. Mary Edwards is reading the Spectator while resting her elbow on a pile of books, identifiable by their titles as being suitably educational for the young boy.

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

Hogarth had earlier come  up with this image of the young Gerard Anne in his cradle. It belongs to the National Trust and is on display at Upton House in Warwickshire. I can’t say I am a great lover of paintings featuring small babies, but there you go….

(c) National Trust, Upton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary’s son Gerard Anne (c) National Trust, Upton House

And so it was that in 1742 Mary Edwards commissioned this satirical painting, entitled Taste in High Life,  for the sum of sixty guineas. The version shown below is an engraving made  by Samuel Phillips in 1798, under commission from John Boydell for a posthumous edition of Hogarth’s works, but was not published until 1808.

Taste_high_lifeThe High Life shows two women wearing large hooped dresses, the one on the left with a huge uplift at the rear. The lady in the centre is almost certainly a parody of Mary Edwards herself, sporting patches/beauty spots, while her enormous muslin dress is decorated with overblown roses. She and her male friend are enthusiastically examining a tiny porcelain tea cup, while the man holds the saucer to go with it. The man is thought to be “Beau” Collyer, 2nd Earl of Portmore, a somewhat foppish example of manhood. He sports a ludicrously long queue in his hair, carries  a big muff and a tricorne hat under his arm, and his sword is tied up in his clothing, making his jacket flare like a skirt. In the foreground a monkey is dressed to the nines and is shown as a servant, using a lorgnette to read a list of items recently bought at auction. The lady on the left tickles the chin of a young be-turbaned black servant – reputedly based on Ignatius Sancho. His coat tails are so ludicrously long that there is no way he could stand and walk without tripping over… He may be a slave, but the ladies are also slaves – to fashion.

We can take this as a highly fashionable household of the day, one where the occupants are ridiculed for spending all their time and money on acquiring uselessly impractical ornaments while disporting themselves in clothing which not only looked absurd, but which precluded  free movement.

The impracticality of the  fashions is reflected in the image on the fire-screen which shows a lady trapped in her sedan chair, unable to manoeuvre out of the conveyance. Three of the pictures hanging on the wall are fashion plates, while the main picture emphasises the passing nature of fashion, with a cupid using bellows to burn a bonfire of wigs and hoops. The same picture also features a cut-away view of a lady wearing a hooped dress, in the style of a classical sculpture of a female standing on a plinth.

Beau" Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

Beau” Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

“Beau” Collyer was  famous for his immaculate dress. Born in 1700 he became MP for Wycombe in 1726 and represented  Andover between 1727 and 1730, when he succeeded to the Portmore earldom. Sir Joshua Reynolds did this portrait of him on the right when he was 58. He was particularly successful as a horse breeder, and was also a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital, dedicated to promoting the welfare of abandoned children.

Hogarth never really liked the High Life and refused to allow any engravings to be made, so the one shown here was executed after the copyright had expired.  And just by way of contrast, let us end (on a bum note….) with a parody of how fashions changed – with a print made circa 1794. As it says, the left-hand image, taken from the picture hanging in the background in Hogarth’s High Life, shows “The Mode” in 1742 as a contrast to  “The Ton” of 1794. Together they are entitled “A section of The Petticoat –  or the Venus of ’42 and ’94”. Note that just as the hoop-skirt has been replaced with high-waisted narrow skirt, so the high-heeled shoes of 1742 have given way to the flat shoes of 1794.


*For anyone interested in my book, it comes out in the autumn and is available on pre-release via Pen & Sword here.


Aug 052016

I must admit I was familiar with a couple of paintings without appreciating that they were both by Henry Raeburn, a Scottish artist who lived between 1756 and 1823. He was  appointed Portrait Painter to King George IV in Scotland and some of his paintings are rather good. One of the paintings I knew was of the Skating Minister, which he painted in the 1790’s, showing the Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, and shown here:2 The_Skating_Minister Revd Robert Walker skating on Duddington Loch Quite splendid! Another one I am familiar with is the portrait of Sir Walter Scott, which he painted in 1822:

3 Portrait_of_Sir_Walter_Scott

What I had not appreciated was how prolific an artist he was, painting over a thousand pictures over a period of fifty years. Most unusually, he did so without following the well-travelled path to London, preferring to stay and work in his native Scotland for almost his entire career. He had started off as a jeweller, painting intricate images on slivers of ivory before moving on to becoming a (self-taught) painter of portrait miniatures.

He had a whirlwind courtship with a wealthy older widow, marrying her within a few weeks of their initial meeting, and together they headed off to Italy on their own Grand Tour, where they met up with Sir Joshua Reynolds. He persuaded Raeburn to study the Greats such as Michelangelo, and he returned from Italy after two years and acquired the skill to work in oils, largely by trial and error – in other words, without any formal lessons. Initially he learned by copying other paintings, but as he grew in confidence he dispensed with any form of preliminary sketches or rough drafts, and painted direct onto the canvas, while the sitter was in front of him. None of your Reynolds nonsense of painting the face and then leaving minions to finish the folds in the fabric. He did the lot, there and then.

He was highly influential in establishing a Scottish  tradition of portraiture, and was commissioned by many of the leading families of the time. I rather like the portrait of Alexander Dirom –  one of several he did of the Dirom family in the period around 1815, and shown courtesy of the Museum of Shenandoah Valley :

4 Captain Alexander Dirom

The Tate Gallery has this striking full-length portrait of  Mrs Downey, painted in 1787:

Mrs Downey c.1787-90 Sir Henry Raeburn 1756-1823 Bequeathed by Robert Dudgeon 1883

The light and colouring in his portrait of the two Allen brothers, boys by the names of James and John Lee, is particularly effective:

1 Henry_Raeburn_–_‘The_Allen_Brothers’_(Portrait_of_James_and_John_Lee_Allen),_early_1790s,_Oil_on_canvas,_Kimbell_Art_Museum

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, has this fine portrait of the rather well-fed William Glendonwyn:

6 William Glendonwyn

I gather that he generally painted men rather than women but the National Trust of Scotland has this one (left) of, Lady Sarah, wife of John, 13th Lord Sempill, painted in 1788. On the right is a lovely gentle  portrait of his wife Ann:

7 Sarah Raeburn


10 ann raeburn









Hey, love that hat!

One of the reasons for his prolific output was that he made a disastrous venture into the mercantile world of shipping – and lost a fortune. He was declared bankrupt but worked furiously to repay all his debts. Wikimedia have this portrait of Major Alexander Stewart, below left, and I came across his portrait of Margaritta Macdonald (Mrs Scott Moncrieff), which he painted in 1814. For someone who lost both his parents before he was ten, who taught himself  to paint, and made a living from portraiture which supported him throughout his life, I think he was rather remarkable.

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