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Ambassadorial Silver for “The Golden Peacock”: Charles Stewart, Lord Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854)

On July 8th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A pair of George III silver plates by Paul Storr, London 1813, each with shaped shell and foliate gadroon edges, engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and the arms of Charles William Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854). Diameter of each approx: 275mm / 10 1/2 inches; total weight 48.86 ounces troy. See sale listing.

This pair of ambassadorial silver plates were made by famed London silversmith Paul Storr (1771-1844) for Lord Stewart on his appointment as ambassador at Vienna on 27 August 1814.

Known by his admirers as “Fighting Charlie”, and by his detractors as “The Golden Peacock”, Stewart was a soldier and diplomat whose vivid life touched on many of the great events and personalities of the early 19th century.

The only son of Robert Stewart, first marquess of Londonderry (1739–1821), and his second wife, Frances (d. 18 January 1833, aged eighty-two), eldest daughter of Charles Pratt, first Earl Camden, Charles Stewart was born in Dublin on 18 May 1778. The first marquess was an Irish politician of note who devoted much of his life to improving his Irish estates at Mount Stewart in Co. Down, advancing the causes of his tenants and re-modelling the magnificent family seat to a design by George Dance.  

Commissioned in the army in 1794, Charles Stewart was immediately pitched into the war with France serving on Lord Moira’ staff in the campaign of 1794-5 in the Netherlands then joining General Craufurd in Austria where he was was wounded in the face by a musket ball. Through purchase and preferment, by  1799 Stewart was lieutenant-colonel of the 18th light dragoons returning on campaign to the Netherlands the same year, where he was again wounded. Back in England, Stewart was made colonel and aide-de-camp to the king but with no prospect of the British army campaigning further on the continent Stewart turned to politics taking a seat on his family’s interest in Londonderry: first in the Irish parliament then, after union in 1801, in the House of Commons. In 1807, he was appointed under-secretary to his elder half brother Lord Castlereagh in the war department, a position he retained until 1814.

In 1808 the campaign in the Iberian peninsular brought Stewart back to active service. He was put in command of the hussar brigade under Sir John Moore in Portugal. Following the retreat from Corunna, Stewart returned to Portugal as adjutant-general in the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later duke of Wellington) demonstrating reckless verve in charges with the dragoons at Rueda and Porto which earned his commander’s displeasure but also grudging respect for his bravery. Although present at the battles of Talavera and Cuidad Rodrigo, reservations over Stewart’s temperament and judgment under fire – he was said to be always wanting to take a “gallop with the Hussars” – prevented him achieving higher command. Wellington also suspected Stewart of political scheming with his brother Castlereagh who was appointed foreign secretary in 1812.

"The Golden Peacock": Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) by Sir Thomas Lwarence, 1812. National Portrait Gallery, London.

“The Golden Peacock”: Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854) by Sir Thomas Lwarence, 1812. National Portrait Gallery, London.

His military ambition apparently thwarted, Stewart reluctantly returned to politics. In 1813 he was appointed knight of the Order of the Bath then, the next year, created Baron Stewart of Stewart’s Court and Ballylawn in the county of Donegal. His coat of arms, as seen on the plates, were augmented with the motto of the Order of the Bath surmounted by a baron’s coronet with supporters modelled as two hussars in the full uniform of the 18th Light Dragoons. As British minister to the court at Berlin, Stewart signed the treaty of alliance against France between Prussia, Britain and Russia on 27 April 1813. He was then present in an active military capacity in several engagements with the French and was one of the very few British officers who witnessed the decisive battle of Leipzig on 16 October where he led a charge of the Brandenburg hussars. He then joined the allies on the advance into France seeing further action until Paris was reached on 31 March 1814.

The coat of arms of Lord Stewart, showing his supporters designed as Light Dragoons

The coat of arms of Lord Stewart, showing his supporters designed as Light Dragoons

Now emblazoned with foreign orders and decorations, Stewart was appointed ambassador to Vienna attending, with his brother Castlereagh and Wellington, the congress convened there to determine the future of Europe following the fall of Bonaparte. However, his dissolute behaviour, womanizing (he was widowed in 1812) and preposterous love of display, which earned him the sobriquet of “The Golden Peacock”, created more comment (and enjoyment) than his skills of diplomacy.  Nevertheless, Stewart persisted in his political career and after his brother’s suicide in 1822, when he unexpectedly succeeded as 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, he agitated for further rewards although he had created too many enemies by his apparent scheming to achieve high office. Instead he turned to furthering, and financing, the rising cause of conservatism as a close ally of Sir Robert Peel.

In 1819, Londonderry married secondly Frances Vane-Tempest (1800-1865), daughter of the immensely wealthy Sir Harry Vane-Tempest. To secure her inheritance, Londonderry changed his name from Stewart to Vane by Royal Licence and together with his talented wife worked on improving her family’s estates around Wynyard Hall in County Durham and their valuable interests in the coal industry. Although increasingly marginalised from politics, Londonderry lost none of his fighting vigour intervening in national affairs and fighting two duels, the second in 1839 when he was over sixty. Despite their differences over many years, Londonderry was a pallbearer at the funeral of the duke of Wellington dying himself two years later on 6 March 1854.







Silver dishes from the Marlborough Service at Blenheim Palace

On June 25th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.


A matched pair of silver dishes, each with shallow recesses within a reed and foliate edge border; one by Ann Craig & John Neville, London 1741, diameter 287mm / 11 9/16 inches, weighs 838.6 grams / 27 oz (numbered No 6 and with scratch weight 29.1); the other by George Methuen, London 1751, diameter 282mm / 11 1/16 inches, weighs 874.5 grams / 28 oz

Both dishes engraved with the arms of John Churchill. the 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) with Jenyns (sometimes Jennings) in pretence. The arms are encircled with the Garter and ensigned with a ducal coronet. The whole is resting on the Imperial double headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire.



The 1741 example of this pair of silver dishes was ordered by Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) daughter and sole heiress of Richard Jenyns, of Sandridge in Hertfordshire. She married John Churchill on the 1st October 1678.The 1751 matching example was presumably ordered to extend the service after Sarah’s death. Twelve smaller silver plates from the same service by Ann Craig & John Neville, London 1740, similarly engraved, descended to Sarah Churchill’s granddaughter, Mary (d.1789), wife of Thomas Osborne, 4th Duke of Leeds (1713-1789) and then by descent to George Godolphin Osborne, 10th Duke of Leeds (1862-1927). They were sold by the 10th Duke of Leeds Will Trust, Christie’s, 18 March 1987, lot 300.


Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1702

Sarah Churchill was an extraordinary woman and a forceful presence at Court and in politics for almost seventy years. A close confidante of Queen Anne, she ardently promoted the Whig political cause and helped advance her husband’s military career. With ceaseless energy, Sarah oversaw the design, building and decoration of Blenheim Palace on the royal land granted to the Churchills after the first duke’s victory over the French at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The arms on the silver dishes match those carved in stone on the pediment of the palace.



John Churchill was noted for his prowess on the battlefields of Europe during the late 17th Century and the first years of the 18th Century culminating with his great victory at Blenheim. He received many honours during his military career notably his Dukedom as well as the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

2015: Purchased for the collections of the duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace.

The Admiral’s Cup

On June 14th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


This monumental 12 1/2 inch silver cup was presented in 1919 to Admiral Viscount Jellicoe, G.C.B. O.M., later first Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935) on his admission to the Freedom of the Mercer’s Company. It was made by Garrards of London in 1918 and is modelled on a pair of silver cups gifted to the Mercer’s Company by the Bank of England in 1694 for the use of the Mercer’s Chapel as temporary  premises following the inauguration of the bank the same year. Similar, but smaller, cups was presented to members of the Mercers’ Company in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (see Lot 305 Bonhams London 21 November 2007). See The Admiral’s Cup for the full listing.


From a family of distinguished naval officers, Jellicoe joined the Royal Navy in 1872 aged 13. A talented cadet, with an outstanding affinity for the technical aspects of naval warfare especially for gunnery; Jellicoe soon caught the eye of the Admiralty and ensured his advancement in the service. In 1897 he was made captain seeing action in Centurion during the 1900 “Boxer” uprising in China where he was severally wounded. Back in England, and behind a desk at the Admiralty, Jellicoe was closely associated with the development of the “Dreadnought” class of battleship for which he was promoted rear-admiral and knighted. Ahead of the outbreak of war in 1914, the First Sea Lord, Admiral “Jacky” Fisher, declared that ‘Sir John Jellicoe is the future Nelson—he is incomparably the ablest sea Admiral we have’. Nevertheless, Fisher kept Jellicoe largely desk bound preferring his skills close at hand. However, Jellicoe was appointed to command the Grand Fleet principally at the instigation of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.

Viscount Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet

Viscount Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet

During the early part of the war Jellicoe, following the strategy of Fisher (re-instated as First Sea Lord in 1915), sought to contain and restrict the German fleet (and blockade Germany), rather than force the decisive battle which the British public craved. However, when the German fleet aggressively sought an engagement in the North Sea in May 1916, Jellicoe responded in kind meeting the enemy off Jutland on 31 May-1 June. But the action was inconclusive, compromised by poor intelligence, low visibility and muddled thinking among some of his officers, Jellicoe failed to destroy the German fleet despite inflicting (and sustaining) heavy losses. Fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk, with the total loss of about 10,000 men. Instead, the German High Seas fleet escaped leaving the British with a hollow victory and a war of words between defenders and critics of Jellicoe’s failure to pursue and destroy the German fleet. Faced by the possibility of a mass torpedo counter-attack, Jellicoe had preferred caution: his actions explained (but not defended) by Churchill who remarked that the admiral “was the only man on either side who could have lost the war in an afternoon.” Preservation of the Grand Fleet also ensured no further major sallies by the German navy which now turned to a strategy of U boat attacks, with disastrous consequences when the sinking of Lusitania led to America joining the war.

Admiral Jellicoe's flagship HMS Iron Duke leading the fleet before the battle of Jutland

Admiral Jellicoe’s flagship HMS Iron Duke leading the fleet before the battle of Jutland

Within a few months, and to his great regret, Jellicoe was back behind a desk in Whitehall as First Sea Lord tasked with devising a strategy to counter the U boat threat and to address signalling and technical shortcomings in the fleet which had undermined the victory at Jutland. He was effective in both tasks but quiet efficiency and his undemonstrative manner led to a difficult relationship with new prime minister David Lloyd George. On Christmas Eve 1917, Jellicoe was unceremoniously sacked, only his intervention prevented the other lords resigning in protest at his treatment.

Post-war – a proposition that he should build a “Dominion” fleet in Australia and the Far East being short-lived – Jellicoe was appointed Governor General of New Zealand, a role he enjoyed until 1924. He published two volumes of memoirs but on returning to England was drawn into renewed controversy over his handling of the fleet at Jutland: opinion of which still divides historians. But he remained a heroic figure to the public and was inundated with awards, freedoms and honours including his appointment to the prestigious Order of Merit. Ennobled as Viscount Jellicoe of Scapa in January 1918, he was raised to an earldom in 1925. At his death ten years later, Jellicoe was accorded a State Funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral where his body was entombed beside Nelson in the crypt. 

Established in the 12th century, and recognised by Royal Charter in 1394, the  Mercers’ Company is the Premier Livery Company of the City of London. Founded to promote the interests of merchants, the Company promotes a variety of charities and supports several schools including, since 1509, St Paul’s School. Like most Livery Companies, membership of the Mercers’ is restricted by “patrimony” (inheritance) or, as in Jellicoe’s case, by “redemption” (nomination). Other distinguished members of the Mercers’ Comapny included Jellicoe’s former political supremo Sir Winston Churchill. 

2015: Purchased by the Mercers’ Company for the permanent collection.



The earl, his wife, and a scandal after Waterloo

On May 25th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

A matched silver and Old Sheffield Plate rectangular entree dish and cover with gadroon edging; the silver cover made by Benjamin Smith, London 1819 (marks rubbed) with contemporary presentation inscription within armorial above motto: COELUM NON ANIMUM, with matched Old Sheffield plate dish and handle

Engraved: Presented by Lieut Col.the Rt. Hon Earl of Waldegrave to his brother officers of the 54th Regt. As a mark of his esteem & respect 1st Jany 1819 .

Overall length: 325mm / 12 3/4 inches; overall width: 245mm / 9 5/8 inches, overall height approx: 125mm / 5 inches

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The silver cover to this dish formed part of a gift by Lieutenant Colonel John Waldegrave, 6th Earl Waldegrave (1785-1835) to his brother officers on his retirement from the 54th Regiment of Foot in 1819.

The second son of George Waldegrave, 4th Earl Waldegrave (1751-1789), John inherited the title when his elder brother, the short lived fifth earl, drowned in the Thames as a schoolboy at Eton. A spendthrift, the 6th earl was the black sheep of a highly distinguished family. The 2nd earl, James Waldegrave (1715-1763) was a confidant of George II for whom he tried to form a government in 1757. He failed in favour of William Pitt the elder but earned the Order of the Garter for his pains.

The 6th earl spurned a life in public service preferring to follow his father into the army, buying a commission in the 55th Foot on leaving Eton in 1801. Over the next few years, by purchase and exchange of commissions, he served in several different regiments: suppressing Luddite disturbances at home and fighting overseas as a Light Dragoon in the Peninsular Campaign. In 1812 he purchased the Lieutenant-Colonelcy of the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot leading the regiment during the final years of the Napoleonic War in campaigns in Swedish Pomerania on the Baltic coast, Northern Germany and the Netherlands. At Waterloo, the 54th was in the 4th Division which formed part of II Corps commanded by General Hill who was charged with defending Wellington’s right flank and the route to the Channel ports. As such the regiment played no part in the action but it did capture Cambrai in the aftermath and then follow the army of occupation to Paris where Waldegrave was appointed to the duke of Wellington’s staff.

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In 1811, John mother Elizabeth Laura Waldegrave, Countess of Waldegrave (1760-1816) was ceded ownership of Strawberry Hill, the famed gothic villa of her late great uncle Horace Walpole (1717-1797). To secure his inheritance,her cash-strapped son sought to legitimize his long-term relationship with Ann King, the daughter of an army chaplain with whom he already had at least one child John, born in 1814 . Ahead of Waterloo, rumours circulated in the army that the earl had already illicitly married Ann. In April 1815, General Hill’s ADC Captain Digby Mackworth of the 7th Foot commented that “[Lord Waldegrave] has greatly distressed his family by a very impudent marriage. Many people think the marriage has not actually taken place, though he introduces the lady whereever as Lady Waldegrave. I know nothing of him but his appearance and manner are not those of a sensible man, and I am sure his conduct might even a fool blush to be guilty of it”.

To scotch the gossip, and with Ann pregnant again,  the couple married in Paris on 3rd October 1815 after the fall of the city to the allies when the earl was serving on the staff of the duke of Wellington. Four months later, on 6 February 1816, George (later 7th Earl Waldegrave) was born at the family residence in London, the first of several more children.

Nevertheless, the Waldegraves wedding in Paris, hastily conducted in the aftermath of Waterloo, came back to haunt the earl’s family and to embroil the ageing duke of Wellington in legal proceedings. After the 6th earl’s death in 1835, the legitimacy of George to succeed as 7th earl was challenged by the late earl’s younger brother on the basis that marriage overseas by a serving officer was only permitted by English law during actual hostilities, within British lines, and that the ceremony should have been authorised in advance by the 6th earl’s commanding officer, Wellington.

On 14 July 1837, the case reached the House of Lords. The Rev William Cantley who had conducted the ceremony in Paris, at the Hotel Sebastiani where the earl was lodged, accepted that permission was needed for the marriage of private soldiers serving overseas but he was unaware it was required for colonels. However, some officers were present at the ceremony and “there was no attempt at secrecy that I know of”.

The duke of Wellington was then summoned to give evidence and to be cross-examined. He stated that the earl was lodged in Paris just 150 yards from his own headquarters, well within the legal jurisdiction of the army of occupation which, despite the return to power of the French King Louis XVIII, extended across Paris. “I do not recollect hearing of the marriage before it took place” said the duke but he was satisfied that the marriage met the legal criteria of being conducted within British lines.

Counsel for Captain Waldegrave again argued that, as it had been completed after the end of hostilities, the marriage should have been conducted either under French law or in a recognised British place of worship, such as the British ambassador’s chapel in Paris. But the lawyer faced an impossible task persuading the judge against the testimony of the duke of Wellington who was the hero of Waterloo and, by then, a former prime minister. The case was thrown out clearing the way for George to succeed as 7th earl.

But that was not quite the end of the story. The 7th earl was even more irresponsible and hopeless with money than his father. In 1840 he married his elder illegitimate brother’s nineteen year old widow Frances (1821-79). A year later, she joined her husband in Queen’s Bench prison where he had been confined for a year for drunkenly assaulting a police officer. On his release, steeped in debt, George sold by auction the magnificent contents of Strawberry Hill although following his early death due to his excess drinking in 1846, Frances re-married and returned to the near-derelict mansion to restore it.

On the death of the 7th earl, the 6th earl’s brother William Waldegrave, promoted admiral since the infamous court case, finally inherited his longed-for title, aged 58.







“We are King’s Dragoon Guards – not Royals”

On May 1st, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


This silver tray was presented by the surviving officers of the King’s Dragoon Guards to their army agent Edmund Hopkinson after the battle of Waterloo . Raised in 1685, the King’s Dragoon Guards (which continues today as 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards) is the oldest cavalry line regiment in the British Army.

The KDG had remained in England during the Napoleonic Wars but following Napoleon’s return from Elba in April 1815 four squadrons or eight troops of the regiment (consisting of 27 officers and 505 troopers) led by Lieutenant Colonel William Fuller were ordered to join the Allied army assembling under the duke of Wellington’s command in Belgium.

On arrival, they were brigaded with the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) under Major General Lord Edward Somerset to form the Household Cavalry Brigade. With the Union Brigade of Greys, Royal Dragoons and Inniskillings under Major General William Ponsonby; they completed the heavy cavalry division of the army under the overall leadership of the Marquess of Uxbridge.

After two months of reviews and preparations bivouacked in the Dender Valley, early on 16 June the brigade was ordered to Quatre Bras but arrived too late for the costly but indecisive action there between Wellington’s vanguard and Napoleon’s advancing army. The next day the KDG covered the army as it fell back to Waterloo, near Brussels, where Wellington had resolved to stand and face Napoleon. Several times during the withdrawal, the KDG and other heavy cavalry units charged the French as they pursued the allied infantry up the road.

On the morning of 18 June, the heavy cavalry formed up in the centre of the British position about 200 yards behind the infantry and the ridge of Mont St Jean. The KDG were in the front rank of the Household Brigade, to the right of the Brussels road. There they waited until about 1.30pm when Napoleon, frustrated in his efforts to secure Hougoumont farm, launched 4 divisions of troops supported by an artillery barrage and a brigade of Cuirassiers at the heart of the allied line. At this critical moment, Uxbridge unleashed the heavy cavalry: the Union brigade tore into the French infantry  whilst the KDG and Life Guards swept down and met the Cuirassiers full on.

The impact of the charge had devastating consequences – for both sides. The KDG charge was split by the buildings at La Haye Sainte and in the mad confusion which followed, men and horses became disorientated and ill-disciplined, some galloping straight through the French lines to become isolated and easy prey for the Cuirassiers to pick off. Five of the KDG’s eight troops were wiped out and six officers killed or missing, including Colonel Fuller. But the charge was a body blow to Napoleon: stopping his advance and scattering the Cuirassiers. As the exhausted horsemen returned to the British lines, an officer of the Royal Dragoons called for them to rally on him only to be hear the defiant reply: “We are King’s Dragoon Guards – not Royals”.

After a lull, the French unleashed wave upon wave of cavalry against the British centre, forcing the infantry into squares whilst the remnants of the British heavy cavalry repeatedly counter charged. By six, the entire Household Brigade was down to about 100 men and horses. The Union Brigade had fared no better so the two brigades joined up and rallied in a final and desperate show of strength, their horses blown and subjected to constant artillery and musket fire they watched as the battle reached its crisis point.

All seemed lost but slowly more and more Prussian troops arrived on the British left, releasing British divisions to bolster Wellington’s fragile centre until, imperceptibly at first then in a rout, the French left turned, crumbled and fled chased by the exhausted remnants of the heavy cavalry. The battle was won but at appalling cost for the KDG. Out about 530 KDG who had paraded that morning only 15 were still in action at the end of the day. Others  – wounded or lost on the battlefield – eventually made their way back but the losses were still terrible: 129 killed  and 134 wounded. In addition, 269 horses were killed.

The dead included 7 of the KDG’s 26 officers. It was these survivors who, on their eventual return to England in May 1816, presented this silver tray to their banker and army agent Edmund Hopkinson (1787-1869), of Hopkinson and Sons, St James’s probably for arranging the distribution of prize money after the battle. This was a sum of money awarded to soldiers of the British Army after victories, paid from the value of captured enemy property.

The money was a reward, but it was also meant to encourage soldiers to fight aggressively and force the enemy to flee and abandon their possessions. Dividing the money amongst all the soldiers helped discourage individuals from looting in the middle of the battle – although this undoubtably did occur.

For Waterloo the sum amounted to the huge amount of £978,850-15s-4d. In 2015, this amount of money would be worth over £63 million. Private soldiers received £2-11s-4d each (in today’s money c. £200), sergeants  £19s-4s-4d each, subalterns £34-14s-9d , £90-7s-3d for captains,£433-2s-4d for field officers and £1,274-10s-10d for each general officer. As commander-in-chief, the Duke of Wellington received the largest share of £61,178-3s-5d halfpenny (about £4.9 million today).

In his diary, Captain James Naylor, a KDG officer wounded at Waterloo, notes regular visits to Hopkinson’s bank to draw funds or pay annuities at least until the end of 1817. As their agent Hopkinson was not only responsible for managing the officers’ personal and prize money but also for broking the purchase and sale of their commissions.

Edmund Hopkinson printed by Maxim Gauci, after Eden Upton Eddis

Edmund Hopkinson
printed by Maxim Gauci, after Eden Upton Eddis Courtesy NPG, London.

Hopkinson & Sons was founded about 1796 by Edmund Hopkinson’s father Lieutenant Colonel George Cesar Hopkinson (c 1738-1825), formerly of the 15th Light Dragoons.  In 1816, the firm moved from premises off Jermyn Street, St James’s to 34 Pall Mall which Admiral Lord Nelson’s banker and prize agent Alexander Davison (1750-1829) had recently vacated. It appears Edmund Hopkinson left the family bank in about 1826 to purchase Edgworth Manor near Bristol and pursue the life of a landed gentleman. He built an important library and collection of antiquities, becoming a magistrate, deputy lieutenant and latterly High Sheriff of Gloucestershire.  The bank eventually failed in 1903.

2015: Purchased by the Queen’s Dragoon Guards Heritage Trust for the Regimental collection.






Captain Coram’s Cup

On April 7th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.



A Fine George I documented silver-gilt cup and cover by Richard Bayley, London 1721
Plain, inverted bell-shape on spreading circular foot, with two scroll handles and detachable domed cover.
In original leather, wood and felt shaped fitted case
Height: 174mm / 6 3/4 inches
Weight: 482 grams / 15 oz

Captain Thomas Coram (c.1668-1751)
By his gift to his nephew Thomas Corham (1720-) of Kinterbury, Devon
By descent to Mrs Thomasine Shepheard (c1787-) of Plymouth, Devon, (the great niece of Captain Coram).
Property of a Gentleman; sold Christies, London, 10 July 1996
Private Collection

This re-discovered cup was gifted by Captain Thomas Coram (c 1668-1751), a seaman, ship builder, radical thinker and philanthropist, whose indefatigable efforts to relieve the suffering of London’s abandoned and starving children led to the establishment of the Foundling Hospital. Born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, Coram went to sea aged just eleven before returning to apprentice for a shipwright on the Thames.

In 1694, after impressing the admiralty and consortium of London merchants, he was put in charge of a new yard at Taunton near Boston, Massachusetts to build ships and secure sources of timber for the Royal Navy. For the next ten years he lived and worked in America but his success and abrupt plain-speaking manner attracted enemies, as did his staunch Anglicanism among his puritan neighbours. He was dogged by litigation, his ships were burned and there was even an attempt on his life. Nevertheless, he continued to espouse radical ideas such as land rights for the native Mohicans, an end to primogeniture and, later, the founding of a colony in America for destitute former soldiers.

Portrait of Captain Coram (c.1668-1751) 1740, Hogarth, William (1697-1764) / © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum, London / Bridgeman Images

Portrait of Captain Coram (c.1668-1751) 1740, Hogarth, William (1697-1764) / © Coram in the care of the Foundling Museum, London / Bridgeman Images


Coram continued ship building back in England whilst retaining an interest and encouraging investment in the American colonies. For many years he espoused various philanthropic schemes for the colonies including libraries, aid for debtors and support for Anglican missionary work. In London he campaigned for a lighthouse to be built at Boston harbour, his success showing the perseverance and talent for lobbying which led to his later achievement with the hospital. He was also a founding trustee of the new American colony of Georgia, raising funds and seeing off colonists although his objection to a restriction in women’s rights in the new colony led to his disillusionment and resignation.

During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) he commanded merchant ships becoming captain. In around 1720, Coram, now comfortably off, settled with his American wife at Rotherhithe, an historic dockyard area populated by merchant seamen and ship builders. Whilst pursuing his business interests across town, Coram, childless himself, was appalled by the sight of abandoned children living and dying on the streets of London. With characteristic zeal and determination, he set about promoting the building of a hospital for foundlings, modelled on examples on the continent. For years, Coram doggedly sought support and patronage for his scheme systematically soliciting support from London’s aristocracy but with little success.

However, he did enjoy enthusiastic help from painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) forging a close association between the future hospital, art and artists. Composer George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) would likewise become a future governor of the hospital. Eventually direct appealing to the emotions of aristocratic women led to a “ladies petition” under the patronage of Queen Caroline and then, in 1737, to the signing, in front of Coram and Hogarth, of a Charter of Incorporation by George II.


The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital opened its doors in 1741, first in Hatton Garden then, in 1745, in a purpose built property at Lamb’s Conduit fields adorned with a coat of arms specially designed by Hogarth alongside his magnificent full-length portrait of Coram. Its success was immediate and lasting, alleviating the misery of thousands of children and women, a mission the Coram Foundation continues to this day.
Many of the earliest boys admitted to the Hospital were re-christened Thomas Coram in honour of their saviour although the captain himself, perhaps demonstrating those stubborn traits which had alienated people throughout his life, was eventually excluded from its administration. Nevertheless, it is said that in his last years, Coram, who was childless himself, would sit in the hospital’s colonnade giving out gingerbread to “his” children.

As this cup shows, one child was especially important for Coram, his own god son and namesake Thomas, born in 1720. Thomas was the son of William and Rebecca Corham of Kinterbury in Devon. With scarce records, the direct link between the Captain Coram’s family in Lyme Regis, Dorset and the Corhams of Kinterbury, Devon is unclear although a family pedigree dated 1846 in the Foundling Hospital’s manuscript collection notes the gift of this cup between the families. The cup is also referenced in an early history of the hospital [Brownlow, John Memoranda; Or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital Including Memoirs of Captain Coram &c, London 1847] when it was, with other family relics, in the ownership of a Mrs Thomasine Shepheard of Plymouth, Devon. She was said to be a “grand-niece of the Founder of the Hospital” so it is reasonable to assume not only that she inherited the cup from her father Thomas Corham but that he in turn was Captain Coram’s nephew. Such a lavish gift illustrates the importance of the relationship between the families but above all the cup is a touching tribute from the founder of England’s earliest and most famous children’s home to a child he loved.

Further reading:
Brownlow, J., Memoranda: Or, Chronicles of the Foundling Hospital Including Memoirs of Captain Coram &c. (1847)
McClure, R.K., Coram’s Children: the London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century (1981)
Wagner, G., Thomas Coram, Gent. (2004)
The Cup can also be viewed at

Silver Peeler

On March 27th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

This George IV silver soup plate is from the service of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1834-5 and again in 1841-6. In the complicated world of 19th century politics, Peel’s name still uniquely and widely resonates as a colloquial description of the police force he helped to establish.  From a northern mercantile family, Peel rose rapidly through the ranks of the Tory party. As Home Secretary in the 1820’s, he initiated reforms to the criminal justice system and famously established the Metropolitan Police Force in London whose constables were quickly nicknamed “Peelers” or “Bobbies” after their founder, affectionate labeling which survives to this day. Despite his conventional Tory and privileged background, throughout his career Peel betrayed radical leanings supporting Catholic Emancipation,

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel

Free Trade, the reform of Parliament and the repeal of the hated Corn Laws, often in the teeth of opposition from party colleagues. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the support of the duke of Wellington and with his patronage became prime minister; first briefly in 1834 then again in 1841 although he always had a difficult relationship with a young Queen Victoria who was in sway to the ageing Whig statesman Lord Melbourne. His second ministry foundered over the fraught issue of the repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel died in his prime in 1850, following a fall from his horse. Had he lived, the rise of liberalism, and the new Liberal Party, may have brought him back to power as intellectually he was closer to William Gladstone than William Pitt.

The plate, originally from a large service, is engraved with the coat of arms granted to Peel’s father Sir Robert Peel, 1st baronet (1750-1830) an industrialist and old-school Tory who enjoyed his own political career as member of parliament  although he never reached the heights of his famous son. One imagines the plate was used at Downing Street during Peel’s tenure and admired by his many distinguished guests and friends.

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: "Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant"

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: “Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant”


The Sheridan Grant silver dishes: love and scandal (and a duel)

On January 16th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A set of four William IV silver second course dishes each plain shaped circular with gadroon, acanthus leaf and shell border and bowl recess, engraved with two armorials, by John Harris, London 1834.

10 1/2″ (262 mm) diameter; 97 tr.oz. (3019 grams)


1. Arms of SHERIDAN, Vert a lion rampant between three trefoils slipped for Richard Brinsley Sheridan of Frampton (1806-1888) son of Thomas Sheridan and grandson of the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Motto: CERVUS LECESSITUS LEO; the arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or., as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant quartered with  BROWNE of Frampton: ar., on a chevron sa. between three herons az. as many escallops for Marcia Grant (1815-1882) in pretense


2. Arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or. as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant KCB, (c.1764 -1835) within garter for the Order of the Bath suspending the Grand Cross of the Guelphic Order  and the orders of St Vladimir in Russia and William the Lion in the Netherlands; supporters:  two Hussars of the 15th regiment, mounted with their swords drawn and accoutred. ppr.; motto:  TE FAVENTE VIREBO  


Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

For a few days in Spring 1835, reported the gossipy Court Journal, “the fashionable world was in ferment” over the elopement of Miss Marcia Grant, the 19 year old daughter and sole heiress of Waterloo hero General Sir Colquhon Grant, with Brinsley Sheridan, the indigent grandson of the famed Irish playwright and statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816).  “Even Politics – eternal Politics – have been swamped” by interest in the scandal, trilled the correspondent. It had everything required for a good scandal: celebrities, sex and money as Marcia would one day inherit Frampton in Dorset, a magnificent mansion and estate worth, in today’s terms, £3/4 million pounds a year. After mocking the hypocrisy of its older readers who spoke with “horror, wrath and astonishment” over the incident forgetting their own impetuous past, the magazine gave a full juicy account of events on Friday 15 May when the young lovers borrowed the carriage of a friend in London and hot footed it in just 32 hours to Gretna Green on the Scottish border where, exhausted, they married at 5am on Sunday morning at a coaching inn (now a hotel, Gretna Hall, has a suite named for the elopers) . Visiting the hall a few years later, a journalist from The Literary World asked to see the room where the infamous union had taken place only to find that “it had a very commonplace aspect, in paper and decoration. There should have been a print of Wilkie’s Penny Wedding, instead of one of Tom O’Shanter  and another of Two Tygers Fighting ! The latter, methinks, in many instances, too metaphorically true!” Gretna, the first village in Scotland on the principal London to Edinburgh road, had been a popular destination for runaway lovers since the late 18th century when a quirk in law allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry without parental consent. As long as it was witnessed, almost anybody could perform the ceremony.

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Before fleeing London, Marcia slipped her guardian Sir Robert Macfarlane – who had been charged by the general to keep an eye on her – then sent her maid with clothes on a fool’s errand to Dartford  trusting, correctly, that her enraged father would pursue her there believing she and Sheridan were headed for the continent. However, the general had forgotton,  the Journal wryly observedthat he was dealing with the grandson of the ingenious author of “The Rivals” and “School for Scandal” who as a young man had also eloped with his 18 year old lover, the beautiful Elizabeth Ann Linley. Born in 1806, Brinsley was the son of Richard Sheridan’s troubled eldest son Tom who had struggled beneath the fame of his father. Brinsley’s birth was widely celebrated: his grandfather’s fame and friendship secured the prince of Wales as his godfather and his christening was marked with a lavish dinner, a gala performance by artistes from the Opera House and Sheridan’s own Drury Lane Theatre and ended with a ball.

.Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

But perpetual money troubles and his father’s ill health overshadowed and disrupted his childhood. His parents were often overseas seeking a cure for Tom’s tuberculosis leaving their children in the hands of relatives. This rootless existence may have led Brinsley to decide to spurn the romantic but erratic theatrical life of his father and grandfather and to seek a settled career instead in the East India service. But after just eight years as a clerk in Madras, Brinsley returned to England with vague ideas of a career in politics but with no resources to pursue them. Then he met Marcia Grant, the precious only child of the seventy year old General Grant. She was born in 1815, the year of her father’s greatest exploit, when Grant had commanded the 5th brigade of the British and King’s German Legion cavalry at Waterloo and had several horses shot from under him. With a fortune to her name, the general was unlikely to allow Marcia to marry an impoverished former clerk, however eminent his family name. So, in his family tradition, Brinsley and Marcia plotted to escape.

The Spectator  named Marcia’s accomplices in crime as Brinsley’s three sisters (colloquially known as “The Three Graces”): the celebrated author Caroline Norton (1808-1877), poet and composer Helen Blackwood (1807-1867), later Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye ; and Lady Georgiana Seymour (1809-1884), duchess of Somerset. The motivation of two of the women for helping their brother was obvious: Caroline  was in a very unhappy, abusive marriage and had begun a scandalous affair with the prime minister Lord Melbourne (which would explode into a notorious court case), whilst Helen had married an impoverished naval officer against her family’s wishes.

"A false alarm on the road to Gretna" after Charles Newhouse

“A false alarm on the road to Gretna” after Charles Newhouse


Immediately, Sir Robert Macfarlane was aware that Marcia had gone he  charged round to the Nortons’ house in Spring Gardens beside St James’s Park where he found Sheridan’s mother (another former eloper ) his three sisters, Lord Seymour and George Norton gathered as if colluding in her escape. Hearing this, an irate General Grant, confounded in his attempt to catch his daughter, accused the entire Sheridan family of criminal conspiracy in the abduction of a minor. He forced Brinsley back from his honeymoon in Cumberland to answer a criminal summons in Chancery and challenged Lord Seymour to a duel as he had refused to divulge the whereabouts of Marcia when pressed by Macfarlane . Officially outlawed since 1815, duelling remained the ultimate resort for gentlemen to gain satisfaction for their wounded honour and neither Grant nor Seymour were prepared to allow the law to deny them. The duel took place at dawn on Hampstead Heath in a scene from “The Rivals” by Brinsley’s grandfather (himself a multiple duelist). When the first exchange of shots failed to hit their targets, the general ordered the pistols to be re-loaded. Only the intervention of the seconds and admission by Seymour of some of the details of the elopement prevented bloodshed. Unappeased, the general turned his ire on Caroline’s feckless husband George Norton accusing him of being “deeply involved in the disgraceful plot that has been fatal to my pride and happiness”.  Despite his violence towards his own wife, Norton was in no condition to accept a duel with a man who had commanded a brigade at Waterloo. Hiding behind his position as a magistrate (which, in Grant’s eyes, made his implication “in this nefarious proceeding” even worse), Norton demurred and then avoided further confrontation and repercussions by pacifying the old general.

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

Indeed, the furore blew over almost as quickly as it started. Remarkably, just a month later in June 1835 Marcia and Brinsley’s marriage was officially solemnized at Arthuret in Cumberland and by the time of his death at Frampton six months later in December 1835, Sir Colquhoun was fully reconciled to his errant daughter and her husband. These lovely silver dishes displaying the arms of the newly-weds alongside those of Sir Colquhoun Grant, – so finished before the general died in December 1835 – mark the rapprochment and the prelude to a very happy, long and fruitful marriage which produced nine children.
Overseen at Frampton by the magnificent portrait of his grandfather by Reynolds, Brinsley realised the political career  denied his father, becoming member of parliament for Shaftesbury (1845-52) and then Dorchester (1852-68). With Marcia, he also cultivated a circle of literary friends, including Thackerary and Mary Shelley, and even persuaded Isambard Kingdom Brunel to tunnel his railway through the park at Frampton rather than disrupt the view. Only death separated the elopers: Marcia sadly dying first in  1882 then Brinsley in 1888.  By 1932, Frampton itself had gone, its contents sold at auction and the mansion demolished as the family fortune diminished, war and the twentieth century intervened.

The portico at Frampton House

The portico at Frampton House


Further reading:

Atkinson, Diane, The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (2012)

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