Category Archives: Stories

19 January 1801. Death of a village smallpox pioneer

Richard Temple’s tutor, friend, drinking companion and debtor, Robert Holt died on 19 January 1801. He had been ill for some while and was taking asses milk in hope of alleviation or a cure. Holt will be remembered in Finmere, where Richard’s father had placed him as rector. Regrettably he will go down in history as the Rector who died insolvent, having spent monies due to the parish chest. He deserves instead to be celebrated for his pioneering work on smallpox among local communities.

Finmere Church By Laura Ashwell

In the summer of 1799, John Abernethy, founder of St Bartholomew’s Medical School, introduced Holt to vaccination:

In conversing with Mr Holt … on the subject of the cow-pox [vaccine], the favourable report which I made of its effects from my own small experience and observations, induced him, as he takes a kind of parental interest in the sufferings and welfare of his parishioners, to inoculate some of them.

At first, Holt was concerned villagers would be too frightened to take part in his experiment:

The novelty of the vaccination experiment made me apprehensive that my parishioners would not readily submit to an operation which they might consider dangerous in its consequences.

His reservations were misplaced:

My fears were soon removed as I found all impressed by the belief that the cowpox caught in the natural way was a certain preventive of the smallpox.

He began his experiment with Elizabeth Smith who was then twenty-five years old:

I inoculated [her] in both arms to ensure the probability of infection. On the sixth day she complained of headache and pain. She had no pustules, except where I made the incisions … She had no indisposition … and on the thirteenth day the pustules became dry and peeled off.

Within two months, Holt had inoculated 300 people. His supply of vaccine was limited and he increased it by taking matter from the arms of people already vaccinated. The villagers recognised the benefits of vaccination but it was not a pleasant experience:

My cases were all like each other, viz. pain in the axillae the seventh or eighth day, slight head-ach, sometimes attended with feverish shiverings, which inevitably yielded to a dose of salts the day after.

There were exceptions. A painful inflammation of the arm kept baker Thomas Sheen from work for three days. Holt judged that the heat in Sheen’s bakery had aggravated the swelling. Seven-year-old Thomas Williams had a small smallpox-like pustule, and William Neal (10 years) and Hannah Beal (6) each had more than one hundred small pustules. But they were no more ill than others vaccinated.

Holt was concerned that William and Hannah might have smallpox. To test this, he drew matter from their pustules and inoculated eight children from them. Fortunately, [the eight] “all had the complaint in its mildest form.” Parish records reveal that William Neal lived a long life, dying in 1870, aged 81 years.

Holt supplied fellow clergyman William Finch in St Helens with vaccine. Beginning on 17 November 1799 with David Scarborough, son of a clogger, Finch vaccinated more than 3,000 people during the following two years.

All this was just a year after Edward Jenner published his Inquiry into the Cause and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ. Robert Holt, and William Finch, deserve to be remembered as the Clergymen Vaccinators.

Gillray’s take on Smallpox Vaccination

Holt was buried at Finmere and Richard dedicated a memorial in the nave by the chancel arch to him. Translated, it reads:

What kindliness there was in him, according to the poor
What friendship there was in him according to friends
May you readily recognise, therefore, that this was placed in grief
and with affection by his companion
Richard Temple

20 January 1827. If you are lower class, “a word and a blow go together”. But if you are a nobleman…

After years of conflict, the domestic battle between Lord and Lady Westmeath ended up in the courts. She had a ferocious temper, and it is fair to say, a lack of judgement on matters matrimonial. He was violent, beating her several times. Attempts at an agreed separation fail, and she sued for divorce. He countered with a suit in the Consistory Court for restoration of conjugal rights, and won. That judgement was overturned on 20 January 1827.

Sir John Nichol, judge of the Arches Court of Canterbury, was measured in his judgement. There are things he cannot not say because they did not contravene the law in 1827. He was judging aristocrats and, as a man of some standing himself, he struggled to give credibility to poor and poverty stricken witnesses against the word of a man of standing—Lord Westmeath. Early in a lengthy judgement, he opined on whether domestic violence is more acceptable among the lower classes.

“Among the lower classes, blows sometimes pass between couples who, in the main, are very happy, and have no desire to part; amidst very coarse habits, such incidents occur almost as freely as rude or reproachful words: a word and a blow go together. Still, even among the very lowest classes, there is generally a feeling of something unmanly in striking a woman.”

He was saying that it may be unmanly but quite expected that a lower class man might swear at and thrash his wife. What then of the noble classes? Judge Nichol continues:

“But if a gentleman, a person of education… if a nobleman, of high rank and ancient family, uses personal violence to his wife, his equal in rank, the choice of his affection, the friend of his bosom, the mother of his offspring—such conduct, in such a person, carries with it something so degrading to the husband, and so insulting and mortifying to the wife, as to render the injury itself far more severe and insupportable.”

To be fair to Nichol, after this crustaceous start to his judgement, he did identify Lord Westmeath as the principal guilty party, ruling that “to compel the wife to return to cohabitation would be but to expose her to the risk and danger of renewed violence”.


The image above is Gillray’s cartoon of Judge Thumb, Sir Francis Buller, who famously decreed that a man might beat his wife if the stick was no thicker than the man’s thumb. Buller was Anna Eliza’s legal guardian.

21 January 1806. “How absorbing politics are of every other feeling”

Lady Maria Nugent writes a note in her diary after dining at the Marquess of Buckingham’s house in Pall Mall, where the talk was of the illness of William Pitt the Younger. Mr Pitt, Prime Minister, died two days later.

Dine again in Pall Mall. A sociable and agreeable, though a rather melancholy party, poor Mr. Pitt being at the point of death, and almost the sole subject of conversation. Came home, reflecting much upon the lives of politicians, and how absorbing politics are of every other feeling.

“How absorbing politics are of every other feeling,” Maria wrote. Days after this was written, Richard Temple was to join the new government, though his father, the Marquess, did not take a formal role due to ill health.

The cartoon below by James Gillray shows the Grenville government being kicked out by George III. Richard Temple is head first in the water at the front with the label: “Last Stake of the Broad-Bottomed Family”.the_pigs_possessed_500

30 January 1826. Menai Bridge opens: “in beauty it surpasses all powers of description”

Thomas Telford’s magnificent bridge was opened on 30 January 1826. One of the early descriptions of the bridge is by Lord Westmeath in a letter to Richard Temple, the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.

Holyhead Aug. 26

My dear Duke

[…] The crowds coming down to see the bridge are quite beyond belief. I would mention that observing it the other day when it blew hard I could perceive it undulating quite distinctly, but it evidently proceeded from the wind beneath, & not from the workers above.

An intelligent man at the toll house informed me that the S.W. wind is that to which it is worst exposed, & it has received a cast from that point by last winters gales before it was finished, which it will never lose. It seems to me however from its mighty strength to be secure from the elements greatest power, & in beauty it surpasses all powers of description.

Everly My dear Duke yours
sincerely & gratefully


Menai Bridge as engraved by George Hawkins


1 February 1799. The wreck of the Proserpine

Proserpina, is the Roman goddess of springtime and wife of Pluto. She also lent her name to one of the more famous of His Majesty’s ships wrecked in the time of King George III. Richard Temple’s uncle was Thomas Grenville, an intellectual, bibliophile and sometime diplomat. He was on a secret mission to Berlin to broker an alliance. But HMS Proserpine which was commanded to convey him to Prussia was wrecked on this day in 1799.

The Proserpine Frigate Lost March 1799 off Neuwerk Island in the Elbe John Thomas SerresThere are many versions of the story this shipwreck, which so caught the popular imagination it was dramatised in a play at Sadler’s Wells. Tom Grenville’s letter to his brother Lord Grenville, gives a first hand account of the events.

I write one line to tell you that we are all alive and well, having providentially escaped from the wreck of the Proserpine to this small island, eight miles distant from Cuxhaven. We sailed, as you know, on Monday the 28th January, though, from the mails not having arrived, we had some small apprehension about the passage. We took a pilot from Helegoland, who dissuaded us from the enterprise; but the wind being favourable, and our own pilot confident, we determined to go on as long as we could with safety. 

A sudden change of the wind however brought down from the Elbe such immense fragments of ice that, by the time we had passed Newerk in the way to Cuxhaven, we found it utterly impossible to proceed, and we began to attempt to return; the buoys being all cut away, we saw our danger and the difficulty which we should have in escaping the pressure of ice, the mass and rapidity of which it is not easy to describe.

On Friday the 31st, from there being no buoys left, we ran upon a sand-bank a few miles from this place and stuck there; in this situation we had to stand the rapid tides which brought down upon the ship on every side larger and thicker blocks of ice than I could have conceived it possible to have been put in motion; no boat could live a moment, and on Friday night the shocks were so great that our rudder was forced away, and the general opinion was that every hour was likely to break the ship down in a state that would leave us no chance of saving our lives, and we had already thrown overboard all our guns and heavy stores without any effect.

Desperate however as our state was, Mr. Fisher, Baron Kirkla, and I determined to make any effort rather than await with a certainty of perishing where we were. Providentially the ice had increased so much that on one side of the ship it was frozen quite fast in, though the tide still ran quickly on the other, and knowing that we could not be above a mile or two from the coast, we determined, and the captain and crew agreed with us, in trying to explore a passage on the ice on foot, and we succeeded well enough in this attempt to arrive safely at this place last night.

Upon mustering our numbers we find that we have only lost twelve persons who perished by the extreme severity of the weather in the hazardous march which we were obliged to make; the frigate still appears not to be entirely broken down, and if the weather admits of it before she disappears, the captain will endeavour to save what he can. None of our party have any one article of baggage or dress except what we have on our bodies, but our escape is so wonderful that I can only dwell upon our miraculous deliverance, and have not room in my mind for any other reflections of loss or of embarrassments. I have been fortunate enough to save the greater part of my papers […]

Of the cutter which sailed with us we know nothing, but we learnt here that the packet which sailed from Yarmouth on the same day that we did (commanded by Captain Dean, of Yarmouth) was lost three miles from this place on the day before that of our misfortune. The passengers, however, and crew all escaped, except one or two of the seamen. We are likely to be detained here a few days before any road is practicable for us to reach Cuxhaven; from thence we shall proceed to Hamburgh in order to buy some shoes and stockings and coats and waistcoats, and from one of those places I will write again to you a letter which will, I doubt not, reach you as soon as this, as they tell me the passage of the Elbe is not likely to be open this fortnight at soonest.

5 February 1783. The new Order of St Patrick

On 5 February, 1783 a royal warrant was issued to George Grenville (who then signed himself Nugent Buckingham) authorising him to arrange for letters patent under the great seal of Ireland to create a new Order of St Patrick. Although the patents were apparently not issued, the order received the Royal signature on 28 February and the first Chapter was held on 11 March, at which Nugent Buckingham invested himself Grand Master.

John_Keyse_Sherwin_order_st_patrick_cropped_500Portrait of investiture by John Keyse Sherwin

The aim of the order was reward those in high office in Ireland and Irish peers who supported the government. It served as the national Order of Ireland, similar to the Garter in England and the Thistle in Scotland.

The original number of Knights of St Patrick was fifteen plus the Sovereign. This was increased to 22, plus the Sovereign, on the visit of George IV to Ireland in August 1821. The Knights wore mantles of sky-blue satin, and the star of the Order was embroidered in silver on the right breast.

The original Knights were:
Nugent Buckingham (the Lord Lieutenant is a Knight by virtue of office)
Prince Edward, fourth son of George III
William Robert, Duke of Leinster
Henry, Earl of Clanricarde
Randal William, Earl of Antrim
Thomas, Earl of Westmeath
Murrough, Earl of Inchiquin
Charles, Earl of Drogheda
George de la Poer, Earl of Tyrone
Richard, Earl of Shannon
James, Earl of Clanbrassil
Richard Colley, Earl of Mornington
James, Earl of Courtown
James, Earl of Charlemount
Thomas, Earl of Bective
Henry, Earl of Ely

The Order lapsed nearly two hundred years later in 1974 with the death of the last surviving recipient, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester.

Monday 13 February 1804. A fine party at Swanbourne

With her husband sailing towards Copenhagen as Captain of the Ganges, and soon to fight alongside Nelson in the glorious battle of that port, Betsy Fremantle was busy keeping house at Swanbourne in Buckinghamshire. The following diary account of a party at Swanbourne would not be out of place in Jane Austen’s novels.

Swanbourne, 13th February. Monday. Lady Buckingham arrived soon after nine o’clock with Lord George, Lady Mary and Mr. Martin. We breakfasted in the Library and she admired much the House. She saw all my brats and was very civil to old Mrs Fremantle who had not seen her for some years. She left us at eleven and the moment she was gone I was busy in clearing my room for this evening’s dance, preparing the supper table &c. We dined in Capt. Fremantle’s dressing room. Miss Chaplin came in the morning and little Harriet Howard who I asked to please her Mamma and is the ugliest little ape I ever saw.

Did Betsy Fremantle ever expect her diaries to be read? If she did she might not have called poor little Harriet Howard “the ugliest ape I ever saw”! Lady Buckingham is Richard Temple’s mother, Lord George and Lady Mary his brother and sister. Mr Martin is Abbé Martin, an exiled French catholic priest. His mother, sister and the Wynne sisters are all Catholics (Betsy Fremantle was Betsy Wynne before her marriage).

the_misses_harriet_and_justina_wynne_from_a_drawing_at_helensburghBetsey & Justina

The party began at eight:

We all dressed after dinner and our company began to assemble at eight o’clock—Miss Heslop, Miss Bennett and her brother, five Miss Pouletts and their brother, General Poulett was ill but paid me a great compliment by sending all his children—Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Dr. Millner, Wodley, the Blicks, Capt. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Harman, five Lowndes, a Mr. Oddy and another friend they brought, in all we were thirty-four. Dancing was kept up with much spirit and thirteen couples had just room enough in the Library. We supped at twelve, our table in the dining room held twenty-two, the rest were in the Dressing room. Supper was very good and all went off better I expected. Dancing soon recommenced and was kept up till half-past four; I was so lame I could not dance and played Casino with Mrs. Fremantle. Everybody seemed much pleased with the party… Mr. Wodley was a great treat.

It is amusing that a Miss Bennett is mentioned as this might have been a scene out of Pride and Prejudice. Among the five Miss Pouletts was Anne Lucy who was falling in love with my brother Lord George.

16 February 1816. A sickly visit to Paris and a return to a sickly England

n July 1815, Napoleon surrendered at last and the aristocracy relished the opportunity to visit the continent. Richard Temple (later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos) had missed out on the Grand Tour that so many young men journeyed as a rite of passage due to the wars, and now at the age of 38, he could at last begin to explore the continent. He left England with his sister Lady Mary in November 1815. It was a stormy passage across the Channel and the trip did not get any better after that. Lady Mary, writing from Buckingham House in Pall Mall, tells Doctor Charles O’Conor of the difficulties Richard faced during the holiday.

My Brother arrived [in London] very ill with a bilious attack, fever & inclination to Gout. He was not well the whole time we were in Paris. I think that the damp muggy weather we had there disagreed with him as well as the light wines the only beverage to be found. He was so anxious to get here for the opening of Parliament that in spite of illness & our remonstrances he leaves Paris & was so ill upon the road that I thought he could not have continued his journey. After he had at last got here I was often afraid that he would have a serious illness, & his spirits were so low that he could not be left a moment. He is now however thank God quite well has been once to the House of Lords & is resuming his usual occupations & amusements.

Richard decided to return home to Stowe, which he had yet to make his own after the death of his father and mother. His wife Anna Elisa preferred her family home at Avington and he was often so busy with politics that he lived mostly at Buckingham House in Pall Mall. Stowe in consequence had become somewhat neglected.

It is my Brothers intention as soon as Politics will allow him, to set out for Stowe where (I know it will please you to hear it) he means to live quietly for several months. Heaven grant that this intention may last, as you & I my dear Dr will then again have the happiness of seeing our terrestrial paradise looked upon as the home of its owners… as it has hitherto only been used by my Brother & Sister as a sort of Inn for a few months of the year, where they receive the whole county & live in a constant mob… to her justice, I really think my Sister [Anna Eliza] is trying to like the place & interest herself in it, which a quiet life there would promote more than anything.

silk_stowe_south_front_1 silk_stowe_south_front_2The south front of Stowe House printed on silk (1917)
The original image is by Alexander Francis Lydon (c. 1865)

Lady Mary then wrote about the general state of the country. Less than a year after it had defeated its arch enemy after 16 years at war, England was most miserable scene:

The distress of the country is dreadful—here trades people in extensive business [?] for bills of a few shillings, & sell their goods at half price, & to add to the misery smuggling is so much practiced that French Goods are every where preferred & bought, & in the country Farmers cannot pay their rent or labourers so that there again the lower class is starving. I believe never was so much misery as there is now. The higher class too are all poor. Houses to let without end in every street. […] It really is most serious, & however Ministers may pass over other things they must in some way relieve the Agricultural interest—as a farmers wife I speak feelingly on this subject.

20 February 1824. Mary Anning, Conybeare, and the Plesiosaurus

The mineral and fossil collection built by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos at Stowe in the 1820s was almost unequalled. He purchased the mineral collection of Abbé Haüy, the celebrated founder of crystallography after his death. It cost £4,000, around £3 million today! The ten thousand specimen collection was housed in a Museum set in the flower garden at Stowe, along with many natural history, fossil and archaeological specimens.

The Duke’s prize specimen was not, however, within the Haüy collection. It was the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus which he purchased from fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist Mary Anning for 100 guineas (£105) in 1823. There was great excitement about this huge specimen, one of the largest discovered. It measured about 10 feet long (3 meters).

The Plesiosaurus created a great deal of scientific interest, and the Duke allowed it to be examined by his friend and correspondent Dr William Buckland. A plaster cast of the specimen was made by Sir Frances Chantrey, and a lithograph from this appeared in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London (below).



The Rev William Daniel Conybeare used this fossil to confirm and revise his analysis of plesiosaur anatomy at a meeting of the Geological Society in 1824. Many commentators have since noted that he failed to mention Mary Anning by name, and accuse the men of stealing credit due to her. Conybeare’s presentation was made at the same meeting as that at which Buckland described the dinosaur Megalosaurus. The whole matter was sensational and Mary Anning rightly earned the epithet “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew”.

The Plesiosaurus was sold to the British Museum in 1848 for the modest sum of 8 guineas (£8 8s). The Haüy collection went under the hammer for a scarcely better sum of 310 guineas (£325 10s) to M Dufrénoy, who purchased it for the Jardin des Plantes, at Paris.

26 February 1836. Accidental Death of a Catholic at Stowe

John Broadway (1771-1836) was clerk of the works to the Duke and the Duchess at Stowe of Buckingham and Chandos until his death there in 1836. He was a first-class steward and a family friend.

His untimely death was a great shock. Anna Eliza, the Duchess, wrote to her cousin Captain Percy Grace with the news:

We experienced a dreadful shock a Month ago from the awful death of poor Broadway who fell from a trap Door a height of twelve feet upon a Stone Pavement & was instantly killed close to the Room where we were at breakfast. It is impossible to describe the effect it had upon us all & I trust the awful lesson of the uncertainty of this life will be of lasting benefit!

Broadway was one of the last remaining Catholics at Stowe. The Duke’s mother was a Catholic and, even though his father was Protestant, he was a great supporter of the Catholic cause—as Richard (the Duke) was also. In Richard’s parents’ time, there were a good number of Catholics at Stowe including the librarian Charles O’Conor, an excommunicated Irish priest. After the death of Richard’s father, Catholic worship was outlawed at Stowe—though the family remained loyal to its friends and estate workers who practised the Catholic faith.

Broadway was buried a few miles from Stowe in the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church, Hethe, Oxfordshire.

john_broadway_grave-scaled500Of your Charity
Pray for the Souls of
John Broadway
Who Died at Stowe, 26, Feb. 1836
Aged 65 Years
Alexander Broadway
Son of the above Who Died at York
23, June 1851, Aged 46 Years
and Martha, his wife
Who Died at Edinburgh 24 June 1880
Aged 74 Years

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