Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Great.... Aunt's Tale: Charlotte Baber

The first page of Charlotte Baber's letter to Francis Fowke.[1]

Please click on the image for a larger version.

When we read about our forebears adventures as they set off around the World, it is easy to overlook the pain and anxieties that must have been felt by those left behind; parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, as well as former friends and acquaintances.

One of the saddest effects created by so many young men leaving for the Navy, Army or the colonies, however, was on all of the girls they left behind, their sisters, and the sisters of their acquaintances, with whom those girls had often grow up, and who they might well have expected to have  married in the fullness of time.

In my own Baber family tree, I have many such maiden "sisters" or "great aunts."

This is the story of just one of them, Charlotte Dorothea Baber (born circa 1750 - died 1814) who until a few days ago had existed for me as only a name set down on a few scribbled family trees from the 1880's, a will, and possibly her mortal remains in the crypt of Sunninghill Church.

As is often the case, with these chance discoveries, I stumbled onto the briefest mention of her in a website of Welsh Biographies, when looking for something else completely.

“How much longer Davies remained under the hospitable Walsh roofs I have been unable to confirm, but by good chance another letter in the Fowke Mss. (Ms. Eur. D.11 no. 17) tells us of Davies's situation in 1780. This letter, headed Wargrave, May 10th 1780, was written by a Miss C. D. Baber to her 'Dear Friend' Francis Fowke, whom it took just under a year to reach in India. It is eight pages of news, social chit-chat and sermonising from an old and close friend. 'Newly imported from the Metropolis, where I have been resident for these 3 months past in the House with my friend, Lady W. Wynn', Charlotte Baber had arrived back at her home in Wargrave (the family having recently sold Sunninghill Park near Ascot) when, to quote her own words, 'I saw Tutor Davies he looks as Gentle as ever. We talked you over I am glad to find Mr. Davies is so well situated he has the care of Master Dawson, son to Lord Darterry (sic). Lord D. is a man of real worth; and will I dare say esteem Mr. Davies according to his merits'.” [2]

Although the author of the article dismisses her letter as "news, social chit-chat and sermonising from an old and close friend", I thought that this was far to good an opportunity to miss, as it was going to be almost the only opportunity that I am ever likely to have to find out anything about Charlotte and her life.

Aliki-Anastasia Arkomani, of the British Library reference service was extraordinarily kind and efficient, and within hours of my initial request, I had a scan of the entire letter.

I had of course at that time, no idea what to expect to find in the letter.  However as I worked down its contents, I was amazed to discover just how much information, was contained in one single letter. It held a cornucopia of information, and of interest at all levels.

Here was a lady of about thirty years of age, still a spinster, and in those days obviously reaching an age where if she did not soon enter into matrimony, she will inevitably have to face her future as a old maid.

Her brother Edward  (1746-1827) had left for India in 1762, when she was about twelve, and was still out in the East. She was almost certainly unaware that he had in fact already left India due to increasing ill health in January 1780, and was on board "Het Lam", a Dutch East Indiaman, which meant that he would not reach England until January 1781.

Francis Fowke, by John Opie, Radnorshire Museums.

The letter was addressed to Francis Fowke, who had set out for India in 1773.   As the letter makes clear, Francis had clearly been a close childhood friend to Charlotte.  

Was she hoping that he still retained an affection for her?

Had she been waiting all these years, hoping against hope that he might arrive back home for her?

Because her writing is so good, I am going to post first the remaining seven pages of the letter, and then I will insert my transcription of the letter.

Into the transcript I have added end-notes that will I hope explain some of the background behind the contents of the letter.

Page 2 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 3 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 4 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 5 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 6 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 7 of Charlotte's Letter

Page 8 of Charlotte's Letter

Wargrave May 10th 1780.

Tho’ I have written to my dear Friend by the first ships of this season-yet I cannot suffer this opportunity to slip and not avail myself of it! This Vile War makes the mode of conveying our thought to each other; rest upon a very uncertain system; as our letters are in constant danger of being seized by those vile miscreants the French and Spaniards. This very idea puts such a check upon my inclinations to write; that I feel discouraged, even to take up the pen to my beloved Brother – as I fear some pirate will seize my sentiments, and give my thoughts to the winds, or the seas – tho’ we have hitherto been been successful, as but one of our India Merchant men have been taken; & that I think was the Osterley[3] – whether she had any letters on board for me, either from you, or my Brother is not yet come to my knowledge! If she had, I could not have received them; so must make up my mind, to the disappointment and with Female fortitude bear up against, the evils and calamities of this chequered Life; which abound’s with disruptions of various, kinds & sorts! Happy for you my dear Friend that you dwell in a Land where money seems to grow – for we are all undone in England – our very thought’s are Taxed – the Ministry seem determined to min us-but what have I to do with politics you’ll say – why truly I think I might busy myself in something more advantageous to female oeconomy, than suffer my mind to be agitated about the rise and fall of empire—the matter is, I am just newly imported from the Metropolis, where I have been resident for these 3 month’s past, (in the House with my Friend Lady W: Wynn) [4] whilst I was there;

Lady Williams-Wynn by Joshua Reynolds

I was flung into the company of dis-contents – then who called themselves patriots (a name without a meaning) and from them I learned we were mined, totally mined. – but admit the fact; I shall have neighbour’s faze and thus end’s the chapter upon Politicks. – during my stay in London I made three attempts to see Mr. Walsh [5] – but he was too cruelly inclined to gratify my wishes or too busily employed in restoring Liberty to free born English men, I know not which – but so it came to pass; that I arrived at Wargrave without a sight of him!  I saw Tutor Davies [6] – he looks as Gentle as ever. – we talked you over – I wish you had been within earshot of our discourse I fear to offend your modesty were I to relate all that said about you. – I am sincerely glad to find Mr. Davies is so well situated – he has the care of Master Dawson son to Lord Darterry [7] – Lord D: is a man of real worth; and will I dare say esteem Mr. Davies according to his merits. – your friend Mrs Hewer often makes enquiry after you, & made my Swear to give her Love when I address you!  Mind I have discharged my oath of obligation – I wrote you word Last year that the fair Sophia was departed this life – I wish you were in England (will all my heart) for now would be the Time to gain the widow – for Sophia is dead – Daniel is Dead – and even the good Nut Brown October is dead – or at least she appears to have lost her relish for the juice of the Malt [8] – poor woman I feel for her situation – She look’s like a sparrow that Sitteth alone upon a house top – Warfield is now the most forlorn spot on the Globe

Warfield Park [9]

 – it is the deserted village Goldsmith speaks off – Mr. Davy is still at Westead, but talk’s every day of leaving it – Browning & Cissy in a convent – Mrs. Tighe in London – the doctor get’s money fast – Little Earl eat up with gout, but has set his house in order (not to Die) but to marry, Miss Something the farmer’s daughter. – for my part tho’ I live within seven miles of Warfield, I seldom or Ever visit the place, I think Westminster Abbey would afford me the Sort of Pleasure as Warfield would in its present state. O’ the Days that we have sun “what Billings and Cooing; when Miss Duany & the Doctor were wooing; and Miss Baber [10]  & the Rev’d Mr Isham! [11]  not forgetting the little secret doings between Mr. Francis Fowke & the little Bannette, in fine all the innocent high day of youth; and moral simplicity. – how does your good sister do; I have written her once this season, and if I have time; will take up my pen again to address her! I expect yearly to hear of her marriage – what makes her so cruel to the swains of Bengal!  Are you acquainted with my friend Mr. Davies whom I recommend to your notice – I hope you will like him for his own merits sake – if not remember he is my friend.

The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The Ranelagh Gardens
 are under the Rotunda on the right.

 – My sister [12] is now in Town Frisking it away at Ranelagh – she writes in great spirits – I wish she may get a Husband these What prospects is the men I know not to be us two delightful virgins remain single! Their want of taste is very conspicuous your relation Mr. Kelsall is married – Miss Latham, still Miss Latham; blest with powers, that would charm a savage Beast, Soften Rocks, or bend the knotted Oak. [13] -- young Mr. Neville your Warfield neighbor, is on the brink of matrimony – he is going to wed Miss Greville; sister to Earl Temple, a beautiful nymph of seventeen with £20,000 at her disposal[14] – old Neville is to leave Billingham [15] and the young couple are to reside there. –the poor Forest Family, whom you must recollect, are still in the same forlorn situation, as they were when you left the Forest! Not a beam of sunshine, to chear [sic] their drooping spirits! If possible, their sky more clouded than ever – having lately lost their younger Brother Captn: Tom Forest. – He died on board a ship at the Last engagement of Rodneys [16] – his youth was their only hope – to him they looked up; to relieve their wretched situation – how uncertain are all human means & give us comfort – ‘tis heaven alone that can support the wretched; or give Prosperity to the happy. – let it be our case my dearest friend, to secure by our upright Conduct, the assistance of the almighty. – I must preach to you, who are in the midst of temptation, surrounded on all sides by every [alu??ment]; and in the full career of Life. – keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right; for that shall bring them peace at the Last; when all worldly grandeur fails. – I know y’r heart, and am confident of your good intentions; let not example, which draws, were precepts fail “lead you into error – nor be hasty to get rich – whilst you live retain y’r integrity; for an honest man is the noblest work of God! Don’t despise me for Summonising, for, if I had not your real welfare at heart; I should spare my-self the trouble, of recommending virtue for your imitation! I look upon India-Calcutta in particular to be a horn’d place for youth – how few, that have returned from thence, whose characters will stand the test of enquiry – not even all the Wealth of Indus, which they have been at so much pains to accumulate; can secure them from the contempt of their country men – who justly abhor characters so depraved; I wish you, and my other connections in Bengal; to adopt those principles that do honour to human nature – this is the language I have ever held out to them – and I share reason to believe, it is the language which their own good heart’s have spoken to them in, upon all occasions. – I must now bid God Adieu – having much business in the writing way to finish. – My sincere wishes for your health, and welfare will ever attend you – make my comp’ts to y’r Father – and love to your sister, the muslin she so kindly intended for me, is not come to hand-pray desire she will not give herself any further trouble about it—believe me my dear Friend – yours most

All this family present                                                                    affectionately & sincerely
Their love & good wishes                                                              CD. Baber

What poor Charlotte very probably did not know was that her sermonising was going to fall onto the deafest of ears. 

Francis who was following in a path that his family had been following for the previous four generations at least, with Randall Fowke, his great grandfather, (1673-1745) in Madras, starting out in the Gun Room, then rising through hard work and good fortune to become second in the Council. 

Along the way he had made a fortune through diamond trading.

Francis Fowke's (1716-1800) father, Joseph was another larger than life character, [17] who also made his first fortune in Madras.
Joseph Fowke had been born in Madras and probably first travelled to England in around 1728 with his father. He returned to Madras in 1736 to begin work for the East India Company as a writer.  Here he met Elizabeth Walsh whose father had risen to the rank of third in council. Elizabeth married Fowke in May 1750. [18]

Elizabeth had a brother, called John Walsh, who was also serving in India. Walsh returned to England in 1759, where he had decided to settle himself in retirement. For his last two years in India, John had worked as Secretary to Robert Clive. When he first reached England he bought a house, Hockenhull Hall in Cheshire close to Clive’s own newly acquired estates in Shropshire. [19]

Three years later, John Walsh was keen to move, and in late 1764 he bought Warfield Park, near Bracknell. [20]

John Walsh was uncle to Francis Fowke and his sister Margaret.

It is very probable that it was at Warfield that Charlotte Baber had first met Francis Fowke and her sister Margaret. Presumably it was Margaret who had tried to send Charlotte the missing packet of muslim from India.

Margaret Fowke was present in Benares with her brother Francis, where she met another official, John Benn (1759-1825) who eventually married her shortly after their return to England in 1786. Margaret and John Benn inherited Warfield House from John Walsh after his death.

Benares by William Hodges, courtesy of the British Library.

Joseph Fowke having made his fortune, returned to Britain, only to get through his fortune in very short order, probably through heavy gambling losses. In 1771, he returned to India "to repair his fortunes" where he was once again able to restore his fortunes, by trading at Benares, before returning home once more in 1778. He appears to have then made a subsequent voyage back to India, as he returned home finally in 1788.

Although often pressed to marry an English lady following his return, Joseph was officially unmarried, although it is believed that he like very many of the  other English officials in India at that time had local mistresses, and in some cases wives, with whom they had gone through local weddings, sometimes Hindu weddings, and in other cases, Muslim ones.

Joseph Fowkes subsequently had mistresses in England following his return, one of whom gave birth to an illegitimate daughter Sophy.

It was widely believed at the time that he may have brought at least one of his Indian mistresses home to England.  Joseph Fowkes had a brother who lived in Mamesbury in Wiltshire, who had also served in the East India Company.  He adopted a bastard daughter of his brother Joseph, and would later also look after several more, the children of his nephews Francis Fowke and Will Hollond. [21]

Benares was not part of British India at this time, but was located in the Province of Oude, part of the Moghul Empire. The city was situated on the Ganges, and was at the centre of many of the key trading routes across India.  The East India Company had a trading post there for most of the 18th Century, and it had become a very important location for the EIC, as it also acted as an intelligence post from which to observe the ever changing situation at the Moghul Court at Delhi.

On the 16th August 1775, Francis Fowkes was appointed to Benares and was given Letters of Credence to Rajah Cheyt Sing.  His appointment became one of the many causes of contention within the Calcutta Presidency Council, that was split into factions, siding with and against the Governor, Warren Hastings, with his recall occurring subsequently.  Somehow, he was able to get himself reappointed in 1780 to Benares where he was soon able to amass a considerable fortune through personal trading in drugs, diamonds and as an army contractor.

He also acquired at least one, and possibly more Bibi, and began to have children.

In 1781, Hastings had Francis Fowke removed once again from his post at Benares, however by April 1783, he had regained his post once more.

When Francis Fowke finally left Benares in 1786, he was faced with what to do with his mistresses.

In India in amongst his circle of friends including his cousin Will Hollond, at Dhaka with whom he frequently corresponded, having Indian mistresses was quite routine, as few Englishmen at that time expected to be able to return home, and even if they did they could not hope to return until they were old men in twenty two or more years time.

Will was also assembling his own harem, and the two cousins compared notes in letters of their relative situations. Both hoped against hope to survive long enough to be able to retire to Britain, and both struggled to come to terms with what to do in that event with their mistresses.

That Francis had had more than one is suggested by the following phrase in a letter written by J.P. Hoare "as I have so good an Opinnion" of the last mistress he had taken on from Fowke, that he was prepared to do so again again with another mistress. [22]

If poor Charlotte writing in May 1780, was not already aware of the social mores that applied in India, she was going to be given a major surprise when her brother Edward came home in 1781.  For he was bringing home.

When he wrote on the 21st December 1779 to Warren Hastings to request the use of the Governor's yacht and I should esteem myself highly obliged to you for the use of the yacht to carry us to the ship [23] note how he used "us" not I, and this word almost certainly reflects the fact that he was bringing his daughters Charlotte and Diana, and possibly their mother with him.

Edward who was back in England by early January 1781, will have brought not just the probably unexpected surprise of his sisters, Diana, Charlotte and Mary having nieces, but no doubt the news that Francis Fowke also had a large and growing family of Anglo-Indians in Benares.

In addition to this information, was the fact that Francis Fowke and his father had become involved in a fierce attack on Edward Baber's former boss, friend and patron the Governor, Warren Hastings.

On 19th April 1775 Commual O Deen,[24] an Indian who had previously made accusations against the Governor, came to Warren Hastings at 9 O'Clock in the morning, and with his dress torn and looking pale, and out of breath, saying that Nuncomar and Francis Fowke by threats and duress forced Commual O Deen to sign a petition or arzee, saying that he had paid Hastings 15,000 rupees in bribes over the past three years, and Barwell, 45,000 rupees.

This was to be the start of the very long and complex series of trials, that would lead to the impeachment of Warren Hastings and his appearance at the famous trial in the Houses of Parliament.

As Charlotte's brother Edward, was firmly amongst those who were in Warren Hastings camp, this would have had the effect of cutting off normal friendly relations to the Fowke family.

If as we suspect, Edward had brought home a "family" of mixed raced children, this would not have helped his sister Charlotte's chances of a suitable marriage partner, as has been demonstrated by her letter, social mores in England were increasingly changing away from those that had governed the early 18th Century, where morals were far more lax, especially in the hangover from the Restoration Period in the late 17th Century when there had been a huge amount of license for mistresses and extra-martial affairs.

As for Francis Fowkes.  With the passing of the India Act in 1784, and the changing situation for East India Officials, who were no longer allowed (in principle) to undertake private trading in the blatant way that had previously been expected, the older established families with deep roots in India found that their opportunities for future wealth had been sharply curtailed. He returned to England, and when he did so, he brought quite a few of his offspring home from India.  However, he probably did not bring their mother, or mothers. He was expected and expecting to find a wife in England, but although he is believed to have had several suitable opportunities, he didn't formally marry on his return, until very many years later.

One of his female cousin's on his Hollond side wrote of him that he was, "a blundering lover."

When he did at last marry in England, it was to his long term mistress, an actress, Mary Lowe, who he first set up in a Mayfair house, shortly after his return to England.  Later as Mary began to have the first of fifteen children by Francis, he moved her to a house in Wimbledon.

Twenty four years later Francis Fowke's, Aunt Strachey had no idea of the fact that he had had so many children, such was the secrecy with which he had arranged his life.

Francis bought an estate in Radnorshire and built a large house, Boughrood Castle, by 1817, where his children from both his "families" lived together. Two of his darker mixed race children remained living as "servants" on the property long after his death, in receipt of annuities.

Perhaps Charlotte had had a lucky escape.

She would subsequently go on to live in a number of houses in Berkshire and across the border in Arlesford by 1810 in Hampshire.  She eventually died in the house of her brother, Edward in Park Street, near Grosvenor Square in London in 1814.

[1] British Library: Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, Private Papers (European Manuscripts), Mss Eur D11 no. 17


 [3] Osterley, was a ship of 758 tons launched on 9th October 1771 by Wells at Deptford. She was on her third voyage for the company when the French frigates Pourvoyeuse and Elizabeth captured her on 21 February 1779.  Her Managing Owner was William Dent, brother of Robert Dent a partner at Childs’ bank.

“By letter from Messrs Edward Parry and Daniel Barwell, passengers on board the ship Osterley, dated Cape of Good Hope 17 May 1779 we are informed of the capture of that ship the 21st February about Latitude 36 degrees near False Bay by two frigates named the Purvoyeuse of 40 guns and Elizabeth of 36 guns. Monsr [St Olen]Commander . The Purvoyeuse carried 26 Eighteen pounders, 2 twenty four pounders and 12 twelve pounders, the Elizabeth carries 24 twelve pounders.
… the French Commodore & his officers also declared that the ship Elizabeth was the property of an English Gentleman now at Fort St George. This information alarms us exceedingly. If the facts can be proved the treachery cannot be too severely punished.

We learn that the Company’s packets were all sunk the morning of the engagement & that after a cruize of eight days, a small French ship, loaded with Negro Slaves from Mozambique bound to Table Bay fell in with the Purvoyeuse, Elizabeth and Osterley, that the Commodore was prevailed upon to permit Messrs Parry, Barwell and two European Sick Seamen, being foreigners to leave the Prize, that they went aboard the vessel above mentioned, on arrival at the Cape the 2nd of March. It was supposed that Captn Rogers and every other person on board the Osterley would be carried to the French Islands when the Cruize was over. The French ship Cruized at almost as high as latitude 38 from the Cape of Infanta & back to Cape Seguilla but the Worthington and Grosvenor escaped & arrived safe at St Helena, the former the 20th of March and the latter the 1st of April. “

The loss of the Osterley caused great controversy in EIC circles, when it was revealed that a British subject John Laurence, resident at Fort St. George owned the Elizabeth. BL IOR L/MAR/B/400G, 22 February 1779. Letter from the ship Duke of Kingston to the EIC, 16 June 1779, London. IOR/R/E/4-868, p. 465.  Information from Pauline Davies.

[4] Almost certainly Lady Charlotte Williams - Wynn. It is not clear why Charlotte Baber spent so long with this family, but in this year, 1780 Lady Charlotte gave birth to Henrietta, her daughter. It is quite possible that the Charlotte Baber was acting as a companion during this period.
Her husband was Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet (23 September 1749 – 24 July 1789) who was born in Llanforda, Oswestry.

Charlotte Williams-Wynn was the eldest child of the Prime Minister George Grenville and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of the Tory statesman Sir William Wyndham, Bt. She was related to the two Prime Minister William Pitts through her paternal aunt Hester Grenville who married Pitt the Elder (the 1st Earl of Chatham) and who became mother of William Pitt the Younger. Her mother and father died in 1769 and 1770 respectively, and guardianship of their daughter Charlotte was assumed by George's elder brother, Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple. In December 1771, she married Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet, and became known as Lady Williams-Wynn. The couple had eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood, including Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 5th Baronet and Charles and Henry Williams-Wynn. Upon her husband's death, Lady Williams-Wynn became the sole administrator of his Welsh estates under the terms of his will and functioned as such until her eldest son reached the age of majority.

Lady Charlotte Williams - Wynn died on the 29th September 1832 at Richmond aged 79, wife of Sir Watkins Williams-Wynn, Bart. The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 102, Part 2; Volume 152, page 389.

[5]Almost certainly Col. John Walsh (1726-1795) who was uncle to Francis Fowke, and the son of Joseph Walsh, Governor of Fort St. George, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Neville Muskelyne (1663-1711) of Purton in Wiltshire. Neville Maskelyne, the Royal Astronomer, and his sister, Margaret Maskelyne, who married Robert, 1st Baron Clive, were his first cousins. Like many of his relatives, Walsh entered the service of the East India Company (in 1742) and became paymaster of the troops at Madras. In 1757, Clive appointed Walsh his private secretary and he acted in this capacity throughout the campaign in Bengal of that year. Two years later, Clive commissioned him to return to London and lay before Pitt his project for reorganising the administration of Bengal. In 1771 he bought Warfield Park in Berkshire, with some of the estimated £140,000 that he had brought back from India. See for more details of his life.

[6] David Davies, (1742-1819) Who was appointed Rector of Barkham in Berkshire on the 25th May 1782, two years after this letter was written. He had only been made a Deacon on the 28th April 1782. He had been born in Barbados, and been educated at the Codrington College on that Island. He became a social reformer and undertook a survey of the household incomes of the rural poor, which went on to influence policy.

[7] Dartrey; Probably a reference to Thomas Dawson (1725-1813), who was made Baron Dartrey in 1770, and then given a viscountcy in 1758. This family originally called Dawson had taken estates near Galway in Ireland.

[8] Possibly a reference to a mistress of Colonel Walsh, who never married, but who is known to have had several mistresses.  Was she of a dark brown complexion perhaps?  Very probably, as October was the great month for brewing —that luxurious and substantial branch of rural economy; and many and merry are the songs and stories of "nut-brown October" to " gladden the heart of man," with the soul-stirring influence of its regaling. Hops, too, are generally picked this month.

[9] Warfield Park, home to Colonel Walsh.  See;  The former site of Warfield House appears to be a static caravan park on the outskirts of Bracknell.   Perhaps "now the most forlorn spot on the Globe" once more.

[10] Charlotte's sister Diana Baber ( 1739? -d 1807).

[11] The Revd Euseby Isham (1742-1814) of Lamport in Northamptonshire, who Diana Baber had married in 1773.

[12] Mary Baber (1754-18??) Spinster. Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea was a pleasure ground built on the site of land secured by the Earl of Ranelagh as security against the funding he was providing to build the adjacent Chelsea Hospital. Ranelagh built himself a substantial house on the land. The loans were not paid off until many years after his death, so the house, which was occupied by William Baber and his wife Margaret was not returned to government until about 1735 when the loan was eventually repaid.

Interior of the Ranelagh Gardens by Canaletto.

[13] Probably a reference to the marriage of Captn Thomas Latham R.N. to Jane Kelsall in. After Thomas Latham's death she remarried Sir Henry Strachey of Sutton Court near Chew Magna in Somerset, in 1770, who had been a colleague of Joseph Fowkes in Madras and elsewhere in India.

[14] Miss Catherine Grenville, youngest sister of Earl Temple, to Mr. Neville, son of Richard Aldworth Neville, Esq; of Billingbeare, Berkshire.  The Annual Register, or a View of the history, politicks and literature of ..., By Robert Dodsley, page 243, published 1781.

[15] Billingbeare, Berkshire.

[16] Admiral Rodney (1718-1792) who had successfully relieved Gibraltar in late January 1780, during the Great Siege having defeated a Spanish fleet the 16th of January 1780 at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, known as the "Moonlight Battle" because it took place at night.

[17] See




[21] Family Secrets, The Things We Tried to HIde, by Deborah Cohen published 2013. Pages 15 to 20.

[22] J.P. Hoare to F. Fowke, 1786, Mss. Eur. E7, APAC.  See also Claud Alexander to David Anderson, 9 June 1783, Add. Mss. 45424. BL.

[23] Letters to Warren Hastings. BL. Add Man 29144 folio 216.

[24] More usually written Kamaluddin or Kamaluddin Khan today.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

John Baber, Vicar of Great Chesterford (1716-1792)

Great Chesterford Church

For many years, I have been aware that John Baber (1716-1792) was Vicar of Great Chesterford, a village between Cambridge and Saffron Walden in Cambridgeshire. However, because until quite recently, I could find only very little about his life, beyond the theft of his Madder plants having taken place, and that he had been a pluralist, as were so many of his brother Church of England clergymen at this time: I had assumed that his life and career was one of quiet contemplation, punctuated the weekly round of services.

However, with the recent appearance of the Church of England Database, [1] and the explosion of information coming available via the Internet, I am finding that his life has considerable interest.

John was the brother of my 5 x great grandfather, Thomas Draper Baber, the fourth son of John Baber 1684 – 1765 of Sunninghill in Berkshire.

John was born shortly before the 4 July 1716 at Sunninghill in Berkshire.

Sunning-Hill Park, Berkshire. [2]

John and Anne had previously had three boys, Thomas Draper Baber, born on the 19th of May 1711, William born on the 2nd of September 1712, however he only lived a short while, dying on the 5th of November that year, and in April 1714, Peregrine was born and baptised on the 4th of the month. A further daughter, Charlotte arrived during August 1718.

They were brought up at Sunninghill Park in Berkshire, which had been inherited by their father on the death of their grandmother in 1719.  Their grandfather had died in August 1718.

We know nothing about John’s upbringing, beyond the fact that in 1722, it was costing his father £100 a year to educate all of his children.  It is probable that John went to Reading school, as had his elder brother Thomas.  John Loveday of Caversham described John’s father as “an admirable Grecian and polite scholar.”

John's father had inherited the estate from his late Grandmother, Mary the daughter of Sir Thomas Draper; however, much of the money had already been spent, and it is probable that John’s father was one of those who lost heavily with the bursting of the South Sea Bubble.

John’s father had been a passionate stag hunter, who also ran a literary spa based around the Wells Inn Public house. The house was run as a spa which became a resort for many of the local gentry, and literary names of the day, including Lord Hervey and Lady Montagu Wortley.

However, family life must have been strained, because on 7th of July 1727 his parents separated. This must have been a traumatic event for the children. His mother was Lady Anne Stawell, who had married John Baber of Sunninghill on the 28th of April 1710.

Until the 1720's the marriage had endured, however it was to end in a complex divorce, which in those days entailed the passing of an Act of Parliament. A huge document survives in the National Archives at Kew that sets out John's case for divorce, based on desertion.  Anne was absenting herself to London, and spending £500 a year on dresses and extravagant living.

John's father meanwhile was building sets of farm houses and buildings at £400 on his estate at East Ham for each and spending freely on books, amassing at least 2,500 titles.

When John was 19, he went up to St John’s College Oxford, where he Matriculated on February the 6th 1735 – 6. He took his B.A. there in 1739.

In the following year he was ordained Deacon at Bangor on the 1st June 1740. It is not known what John did for the following six years, but on the 10th of October 1746, John became the domestic chaplain to Edward 4th Baron Stawell of Somerton in Somerset.

Edward 4th Baron Stawell (1685-1755) by Michael Dahl.[4]

Edward, Baron Stowell was the nephew of John's mother Anne. Edward Stawell lived at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire, Aldermaston Court, and occasionally at Somerton in Somerset. It is very probable that he also had a house in London as well. It is not possible to say just how much time that John Baber would have spent in his role as domestic chaplain to Baron Stawell, but presumably it must have been a fairly comfortable time.

The Surviving gates to Aldermarston Court.

Stawell's home at Aldermaston, was the closest to to the Baber family home at Sunninghill, and was most probably where John Baber acted as Chaplain to the Baron.  The fact that the Baron felt able to employ John, when his sister Anne had been divorced by John Baber's father, suggests that John and his mother had maintained contact following her divorce.

We don't know where Anne lived after her divorce, but it is very likely that she spent some of her time at Aldermarston. After her death, she was buried in the Baber family vault at Sunninghill Church.

A year or so later, on the 2nd of December 1747, he took his M.A. degree at Cambridge. On the 6th of March 1747-8 he was ordained at Lincoln, and became Rector of Little Chesterford on the 9th of March 1748, and Vicar of Great Chesterford on the 22nd of March 1748.

Little Chesterford Church

While we know that John married Elizabeth Bate Prissick, at present I cannot establish when the marriage took place, or indeed where.  What I have been able to establish is that her father was Codrington John Prissick who came from Carlton in North Yorkshire [5]

Codrington John Prissick had been baptised in 1701 at St Dunstan's in the East End of London. He was the son of Christopher Prissick and Sarah (nee Codrington), who had been married in 1691 in Barbados, where Sarah had been the daughter of one of the major landowning families on the Island at that time.

Codrington Johns' father, Christopher, originated from Carlton in Yorkshire, and was a wealthy merchant, who appears to have lived in London, but then moved back to Carlton before his death in 1718.

Codrington John Prissick was married in 1723, at Whorlton, North Yorkshire, to Elizabeth Perrott [6], daughter of Charles Perrott, sometime Mayor of York, and they had at least 7 children, who were baptised in Carlton between 1724 and 1736.

Codrington John Prissick inherited significant properties from his father in 1718, including the manor of Carlton and its associated Alum mines. 

The Manor House at Carlton, probable childhood home to Elizabeth Prissick.

The alum mines have a particular significance, as Alum could be used not just as part of textile dying process, but was also used extensively for the refining of raw sugar loaves.

It is probably highly significant that her father was Codrington John Prissick.  The Codrington family under Christopher Codrington (c. 1600-1656) had been amongst the most successful of the pioneering settlers in Barbados. Chistopher Codrington married Frances Drax, who had several sons, including John Codrington (c.1642-c.1688) who had married Sarah Bate, daughter of Colonel William Bate of Barbados.

This marriage produced at least five children, including Sarah Codrington, who had married Christopher Prissick of London, parents of Codrington John Prissick.[7]

Former Alum Mines on Carlton Bank, looking north towards Middlesborough

Note how Elizabeth Bate Prissick has the middle name Bate.  This naming pattern was very common during the 18th Century, with my great x 4 grandfather Samuel Hawkins, a London solicitor and promoter of loans to South Wales mining interests calling his sons by long strings of names including Bennett, Popkin, and after a number of other mining owners who were amongst his clients.

John Baber appears to have suggested this practice to his brother Thomas. John's living at Great Chesterford was within the gift of the Hervey family, major East Anglian landowners, with the result that my 3 x great grandfather was called Henry Hervey Baber, and he had Thomas Hervey Baber, and James Hervey Baber for brothers.

There were many members of the Bate family active in Barbados and Antigua while Elizabeth was a child, and it is probable that one of them was invited to become her Godfather.

Late 19th Century Mapping of Carlton Bank, showing both the former Alum mines,
but also the Jet Workings.

Quite a number of the early colonial planters tried to vertically integrate their sugar plantations, by using brothers or other close family members to organise the marketing of the sugar in England or to the Continent. Two thirds of the sugar arriving in England was for onward sale to Europe.

It looks as if the Prissick family had repatriated funds to England, and had bought up the Alum mines so that they could supply Alum to the processing works in Antigua where their main plantations were.

The Alum mines at Charlton have been restored over the past 30 years, removing much of the former workings, but as the following image shows, their effect on the landscape is still clearly to be seen from the following aerial photograph.

Alum and Jet Mines on Charlton Bank.  
The village is situated in the plain to the north of the escarpment.

Because it is not at all clear where Elizabeth and John were married, and because a gap of about five years exists in John's documentation, it is entirely possible that John had made the voyage to the West Indies, and this may have been where they met.

John Baber's father had spent some of his childhood in Spain, and when his library was sold in 1766, it contained what was then the largest collection of Spanish and Italian books in England. These included a number of titles on the Spanish colonies in South America and the Spanish Main.  John's brother Peregrine Baber had made the journey to the West Indies as a Marine Officer where he had taken part in the ill fated siege of Cartagena in 1746.  The regiment of Marines Peregrine served in was raised in Hartlepool and South Shields.

It is quite possible that John was involved in this expedition, or may have already been in the West Indies.

It does appear however that not all was well, with Elizabeth's father as the properties were passed on to his Uncle John Prissick during the 1740s.

By October 1746, John was active and appears in the records in England once again.

Appointed Vicar of Great Chesterford on the 22nd of March 1748, he now had two parishes to run, situated a little over a mile apart.  Great Chesterford was not situated on the main London to Cambridge road, although these were not far removed. It was however on the main London to Newmarket route, much used by crowds visiting the horse races. As such the village was well supplied with pubs and inns.

Interior of Great Chesterford Church.

As far as we can tell John and Elizabeth Baber lived in Great Chesterford for the next twenty years. There is no record of their having any children, and it is not entirely clear where in the village they lived.  There are at least three vicarages in the village. One in the grounds of the other two, is a modern post 1970's vicarage, while the second larger one behind the church appears both too recent for the family to have lived in, as well as two large.

Next to the church gate is the "Old Vicarage" which appears to have a considerable amount of 15th Century, or possibly earlier woodwork in its structure.

I believe that this is the most likely house to have been the home to John and Elizabeth Baber.

The Old Vicarage, Great Chesterford. 
The Church gate can be seen to the right of the photo.

Codrington John Prissick died in 1753, at which time he was living in York. The administration of his estate was granted in that year. A possible clue to the loss of his property being that the administration was granted to his principal creditor, a Joseph Hawksworth of the City of York, a Wine & Spirit Merchant. [8]

Ockley's History of the Saracens.

One of the frustrations of historical research into ones ancestors, is that it is very hard to find out what caught their interest.  In the case of John Baber, we get a tantalising glimpse from the fact that he was interested enough in Islam and the rise of the Saracen Empire to buy Simon Ockley's book, The History of the Saracen's. The book had been written in about 1708 by Ockley who was Vicar of Swavesey and was appointed professor of Arabic in 1711.  Ockley who fell into debt was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle in 1718, and had died in 1720.  The life of Mohammed was added by Roger Long who reissued the book in 1757 as a way of relieving the distress Ockley's destitute daughter was in. Perhaps this is why John bought the book, perhaps he was aware of her plight.

The subscription page for surnames beginning with B.

Aged 47, on the 3rd of March 1763 John became Chaplain to Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville (1721-1776). Robert Carteret had succeeded to his father’s title on the death of the latter on the 2nd of January 1763.

Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville (1721-1776) by John Smart [9]

It is not clear why John Baber should have wished to take up this post, however the Carteret family, who were originally from the Isle of Jersey had had property in Sunninghill in Berkshire, and as such must have know the Baber family for much of the previous hundred years.

Robert Carteret was the only surviving son of John Carteret, 2nd Earl of Granville. He is described as being of weak intellect, although through influence he had been secured a seat as MP for Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight in December 1744. An unsuccessful attempt had been made to have him adopted as a candidate for Cornwall in April 1744.

Elizabeth Wyndham wrote in 1744:

"Young Carteret has been at Wooburn, where he has raised the Devil in a manner so indecent that I cannot give you details. The Duke has told his father that he ought to have him put under control, for his head appears to be turned, as it may well be, for he drinks brandy from morning till night."

On 16 Aug. 1744 Horace Walpole wrote to Mann:

“About a fortnight ago he was at the Duke of Bedford’s and as much in his few senses as ever. At five o’clock in the morning he waked the Duke and Duchess all bloody and with the lappet of his coat held up full of ears; he had been in the stable and cropped all the horses.”

It is possible that John Baber was being expected to try to exercise some control on a less than rational being, who now had lost the restraint his later father might have tried to impose.

20 years later, and at about the time John Baber became his Chaplain, Elizabeth Montagu wrote of him:

"It is grievous to see such a creature represent the late Earl, who had all the grace and dignity of manner added to great talents".

Robert Carteret had had a mistress for over forty years who was called Elizabeth, and was probably of French origin.  He eventually married her, but died without heirs.

Elizabeth, Lord Carteret's Daughter?

The National Gallery of Victoria has a second portrait of “Lord Carteret’s Daughter” also by John Smart. Robert Carteret is not believed to have had any heirs. Was this a daughter who died before him, or is this really a portrait of his mistress?

It is quite possible that it was John Baber’s role to try to moderate Robert Carteret’s extremes, but if this was the case, he does not seem to have been at all successful, because another contemporary report described Carteret in 1776 as:

"rather deficient in his intellects, fond of low company, profuse, fickle and debauched. He appeared constantly in the mean garment of a groom or coachman, shunning his equals, and rioting in taverns with pimps and prostitutes. The conclusion of his inglorious amours was a Fleet marriage with one Molly Paddock, a woman of vile extraction, bold, loose and vulgar, the superintendent of a bagnio".[10]

Along with his estates in England and on Jersey, Robert Carteret had inherited a large amount of land in North Carolina from his father.

When in London Carteret appears to have lived at 3 New Burlington Street in London from 1764 to 1775, where presumably John Baber must have ministered to him.[11]

He also inherited Hawnes Park, in Bedfordshire situated in the village of Haynes, which was about 35 miles due west of Great Chesterford.

Hawnes Park, in Bedfordshire situated in the village of Haynes.

We don't know how John Baber divided his time between his duties for Lord Carteret and his parochial duties. Presumably he employed curates to minister to the villagers at Chesterford.

There is an interesting possible indicator both of the fact that with the vicar spending less time in the village, the locals felt that they could help themselves to his property.

Madder Roots, used to make red dyes.


CHESTERFORD, Jan. 7, [1764]

Whereas a small Plantation of MADDER, containing near a Quarter of an Acre, lying in the Parish of Little Chesterford in the County of Essex, and belonging to the Rev. John Baber, has been robbed of a considerable Quantity of Plants and Roots, to the great Detriment of the Owner; this is to give Notice, that anybody who will inform against the Person or Persons who have robbed the said Plantation, so that he, she, or they, may be lawfully convicted there- of, shall receive the Reward of Ten Pounds, by the said J. BABER. [12]

John Baber's signature.

In amongst a set of family autographs collected, very probably by my five times great grandfather Thomas Draper Baber, are two signatures from two documents dating from February 1766. This was the year when his father's estate at Sunninghill was being broken up and sold. Nearly a hundred years of their family life was being dispersed.

John Baber's second signature.

In 1770, Christopher Prissick, Elizabeth's brother died at Havannah in Cuba.

Havannah at about the period HMS Rippon and Christopher Prissick arrived there.

Christopher Prissick's will gives interesting detail of her wider family.

Prerogative Court Canterbury, Admons:
8 March 1770
Adm granted to.. 

- Hannah Gisborne (wife of Thomas William Gisborne) the daughter and admr of William Gyles decd (who whilst living was a creditor of the said decd)
- Elizabeth Prissick, widow, natl and lawful mother and next of kin
- Elizabeth Bate Baber (wife of the rev John Baber) and Hannah Rennie, widow, natl & lawful sisters
- Elizabeth Prissick, spinster, niece of the said decd having renounced and Ann Prissick, spinster, Codrington Charles Prissick, Thomas Prissick & Bate Hannah Prissick, spinster, the nephew & nieces of the said decd having also renounced by Elizabeth Prissick widow their natural and lawful mother and curatrix or guardian lawfully assigned.

With his previous employer dead, aged 60, and possibly finding parish duties too much John first found a new post as domestic chaplain, and then resigned his livings at Great and Little Chesterford.

On the 1st April 1776 John became domestic chaplain to David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis (c. 1734-1792.) The Earl of Cassilis estates lay near Alloway south of the River Doon. His home was at Culzean Castle, which he re-built, commissioning Robert Adam as his architect. The cost of the re-building greatly exceeded the Earl’s income, and by the time of his death he owed £60,000 to his creditors.

Culzean Castle built in stages between 1777 and 1792

Again, we face the frustration of not knowing how much time each year John had to spend with the Earl, or indeed where the Earl himself was living.  Presumably with the Castle being substantially re-built throughout much of this period, the Earl and by implication his Chaplain must have only visited the site of Robert Adams work.

James Boswell described the Earl of Cassillis as ”a good honest merry fellow.”

Before succeeding to the Earldom, David Kennedy had been working as an advocate living at Newark.

In June 1776, the following notice appeared in the Ipswich Journal.

The Rev. Edward Waterson, B. A. is presented by the Earl of Bristol to the vicarage of Great Chesterford in Essex, void by the promotion of the Rev. Mr. Baber.[13]

Possibly with a view to retaining a living in the South of England in the event that his employer died, or his role came to an end, John took the living of Little Chishall which is about nine miles west of Chesterford, set into the folds of the Chiltern escarpment, not far from Royston.

John became Rector of Little Chishall on 13th May 1776 and remained in that post until his death in 1792.

St Nicholas Church, Little Chishall.

The village of Little Chishall is very sparsely populated even today, and John's parish duties cannot have been onerous. It is probable that for most of the year he lived with the Earl of Cassillis as part of the Earl's household, and that he employed a curate to take the services in Chishall.

The Rectory, Little Chishall.

By  1782, Thomas Draper Baber, John's brother had taken a house in Newton, a village about nine miles due north of Little Chishall.

A map showing the locations of Great Chesterford, Little Chishall and Newton

In 1792 during his seventeenth-year Henry Hervey Baber recorded: -

“Went in July with my fath sic. (to) Great Chesterford and staid there 2 days in which time the Rev.d John Baber died aged 75.”[14] 

An entry in the diary of Henry Hervey Baber's recording the death of the Rev'd John Baber.

What is interesting, is that it shows that John had returned to Great Chesterford for his final years. Little Chishall was such a small village, that it must have been very isolated. 

It is unknown where John is buried. As late as 1827, it was hoped to bury Thomas Baber in the family vault at Sunninghill, but this provided not to be possible at the time because the church was being re-built in that year. It is quite possible that John was placed into the family vault at Sunninghill, as there is no obvious monument to him at Great Chesterford.

Great Chesterford Graveyard, the dates on several gravestones
 are those people who must have been his parishioners

A curious entry in the Clergy Database suggests that on the 22 February 1793 John had become Curate of St George Hanover Square, however this must be a mistake as he had died in the previous year.

The River Cam at Great Chesterford.

If you should stumble onto this blog perhaps because you are researching the history of your village or family, and you recognise any of the people and places named, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I am particularly trying to fill in the gap during the 1740's. Can you find John and Elizabeth, perhaps in the West Indies? Or perhaps you are aware of where in England they were?

Do you know of any accounts of visits to the homes of  Edward 4th Baron Stawell, Robert Carteret, 3rd Earl of Granville, or the Earl of Cassillis as I would love to be able to establish how John Baber fitted in his role with these domestic chaplain posts and those in his parishes.

I can be contacted at

[2] From
[4] National Trust, Hinton Ampner.
[5] In Cleveland since the changes to the County Boundaries during the 1970's.
[7] See Matthew Parker's book, The Sugar Barons, for simplified family trees, and much much more on the Codrington, Prissick, Drax and Bate families. Published 2011.
[8] “In February 2003, we received the following information from Mr David King who came across the Societies website whilst researching one of his Ancestors; Codrington John Prissick, Captain of the Arrow in 1726.  From”
[12] The Ipswich Journal- Saturday 21 January 1764.
[13] The Ipswich Journal - Saturday 29 June 1776.
[14] From “Memoranda relating the life of Henry Hervey Baber”, a handwritten diary of H H Baber’s life.