William Oram‘s posthumous book, Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting, was published in 1810 by Charles Clarke. Who was he, and why did he wait so long to publish Oram’s Precepts and Observations?
Clarke’s background is obscure, not least because his family was (mostly) Catholic and so do not figure well in eighteenth-century English parish records. His DNB profile suggests he was “probably born in Rochester, Kent” on the strength of some antiquarian articles he published in the Gentleman’s Magazine under the pseudonym of Indagator Roffensis (native of Rochester). However, we have no certain details. He first appears in the records when he was appointed Clerk of the Ordnance office at Chatham in 1783. He was then posted to Gravesend in 1790, and to Guernsey in 1800. Rather unusually, he retired in 1807 at the age of about 47, on a nice pension of £200 p.a. He then lived on until 1840, when he was about 80.
His series of antiquarian articles, mostly on churches, span the early period from 1783 to 1794. His antiquarian papers brought him to the attention, and friendship, of Rev. Samuel Denne, himself a keen antiquarian. A number of Denne’s letters were published by Nichols in Illustrations of Literature, and in one of these letters, Denne says of Clarke that “he is, I know, a valetudinarian, and not very willing to pass an hour or two in a cold damp place, and such is a country church in a winter month” (vol. 6, 622) and later, “at times I have discovered a degree of backwardness in him that may be, however, partly owing to occasional bodily infirmities, he being, as I suspect, of what is termed the nervous class” (662). Perhaps his early retirement from the Ordnance Office was due to ill-health.
The exact relationship between Charles Clarke and William Oram is unclear. In the introduction to the Precepts and Observations, Clarke says that he was a ‘near relative’ of Oram; in his will he left a legacy to “my first cousin Laura Harriette Hawkins”, who was Oram’s grand-daughter. The most obvious explanation is that Clarke’s mother was a Hawkins and related to Laura Harriette’s father. Clarke says that Oram’s widow gave him the manuscript shortly after Oram’s death – this would be when she was selling the house and auctioning off his paintings. Oram died in 1777, so Clarke was then just a teenager. Denne speaks highly of Clarke’s drawing ability, but never mentions painting. Clarke did nothing with Oram’s notes during his working life, but must have edited and prepared them for publication when he had more leisure after his retirement.
Clarke retired to Clarendon Square, St. Pancras in London and his will, written in 1836, mentions five then-living children. We can say a little more about them. His eldest son was Charles Augustine Clarke (1796—1842). He described himself as an artist, but does not seem to have exhibited at any shows. In November 1841, not long after his father’s death, Charles A. Clarke married Mary Ann Woodman, by whom he had previously had four children. He died in the following April.
The third son, Henry Edmund Clarke married a French woman, Charlotte Octavine Paquet and moved to Montreal where he was a Professor of Languages. His eldest son, the splendidly named Octavius H.E. Clarke was a standout medical student at McGilll and moved to the States to practice, joined by his sister Yvonne, a teacher, and younger brother Henry. Mary Ann, the widow of Charles A. Clarke, was living with Henry Edmund in Montreal in 1861, with two of her children; the daughter, Laura, was also a language teacher.
The second son, George Morgan Clarke, married Caroline Likely, but they had no children and both died in the 1740s. I will have a little more to say about him in another post.
The youngest daughter, Julia Emmeline Matilda Clarke, married George Potterton. They too moved to Canada, settling in Chambly, Quebec, and farming. By the end of the 1740s, the only one of Charles Clarke’s children left in England was his eldest daughter, Harriett Louisa. She never married and ran a succession of Catholic boarding schools for young ladies in and around London. She died in 1861.
What I know of his family tree is available here.
Nichols, J.; and Nichols, J.B. (1817—1858). Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, 8 vols.