Author Archives: dmelville2012

Edward Venn

 

Edward Venn (1717—1780) was a doctor in Ipswich. His father, Richard Venn (1691—1739) was a vicar, as was his father before him and so on in “an unbroken succession of clergymen from the time of the Reformation”, as the DNB puts it. The Venn family “for generations produced parsons for the Anglican church one after the other like eggs from a hen” in James Hamilton’s delightful phrasing [1].

But not Edward, although as the eldest son he might have been expected to, and his brother Henry (1725—1797) carried on the family tradition and was a prominent Victorian theologian.  Henry was also the great-grandfather of the Rev. John Venn (1834—1923) of Venn diagram fame.

What of Edward? He began by following the usual course, going up to Cambridge in 1737 and taking BA in 1740 and MA in 1744 as a first step towards a clerical career, but at some point he veered off course. Perhaps he had a little more leeway as his father had died (of smallpox) in 1739. Instead of the church he went to Leiden to study medicine and then moved to Ipswich to practice as a physician.

The only discussion I have found of Edward’s change of heart is in the Venn family history, Annals of a Clerical Family, which records:

He studied at Cambridge with great diligence, intending to have taken orders.  But, having passed his degrees, some obstacles presented themselves to his mind with regards to subscribing to the Articles of the Church of England.  By this I do not mean that he actually left her Communion and attached himself to any other sect, but only insomuch as related to his becoming a minister. He therefore devoted himself to the study of medicine, and became a pupil of the famous Dr. Heberden.

No further particulars are given of his religious scruples.

At Ipswich Edward Venn led the quiet life of a provincial doctor and is largely absent from the record until his brief obituary in the local paper, the Ipswich Journal, “On Sunday last died Dr. Edward Venn, an eminent physician in this town, universally regarded(?) for his amiable character in private life, as well as for his abilities in his profession”. Apart from that, he at one point owned a dog called Sappho, and he subscribed to the first edition of Joshua Kirby’s Method of Perspective.

Edward Venn married Mary Beaumont (1716—1796) of Witnesham and they had two children, a daughter Mary (1750—1811) and a son Edward (1752—1830).

 

[1] Hamilton, J. A Strange Business, p. 25.

George Mercer (1723-1799)

In 1751, Elizabeth Pratt (1728—1759), the daughter of Joseph Pratt (1697—1768), Master Bricklayer to His Majesty’s Works, and Elizabeth Churchill (1707—1768), daughter of Thomas Churchill, who had also been Master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works, married George Mercer (1723—1799). George Mercer was a master mason and the son of another George Mercer (1696—1776), himself also a master mason.

Elizabeth Pratt’s background was in the social milieu of elite London craftsmen, and that of her husband was similar.  The Mercers were of Scottish background, but in the 18th century were firmly situated in London and, as masons, George Mercer, father and son, were well-placed to participate in the building boom in Westminster. George Mercer, along with Walter Lee, another local mason to whom he apprenticed his son George, were major developers of Great Titchfield Street and other places around Marylebone. George Mercer Sr. worked closely with Marylebone-based Scottish architect James Gibbs, building Marylebone Court House and Oxford Market House, as well as 16 Arlington Street (the townhouse of the Duchess of Norfolk).

George Mercer was one of five (adult) siblings and, as the eldest son, he continued in the profession of his father. I know little of his brother John, although John’s son William became a successful Blackwell Hall factor, a dealer in cloth in the central market in London, a position that required considerable capital. In gaining that capital the younger William may have been aided by his uncle William Mercer (1732—1789). The elder William was described as the captain of and East India ship and seems to have retired to London shortly before his death. In his will he makes provision for the wife he had recently married, but the bulk of his estate went to his nephew.

George’s two sisters, Mary and Margaret, both married into London Scottish families.  Mary married Andrew Douglas who was then a wine-merchant, but rose to become Paymaster of the Royal Navy. Margaret married James Colhoun.  On his death in 1790, the Gentleman’s Magazine described him as “many years ago an eminent shoe-maker, but retired from business”.

George himself prospered.  He was apprenticed as mason to Walter Lee in 1739, becoming free in 1746. In 1763 he achieved Master Mason and becoming Father of the Company of Masons in 1791, on which occasion he donated the ceremonial mace that is still in use.  A Justice of the Peace for Middlesex, like his father before him, he became a wealthy and successful businessman continuing the speculative development of the prosperous West End. He died in 1799 leaving a long will with a complicated collection of annuities and legacies for his extended family.

george-mercer

George Mercer, 1781

After their marriage in 1751, George and Elizabeth had six children in rapid succession: Elizabeth (1752); George (1754); Joseph (1755); James (1756); Douglas (1757), and Thomas (1759).  Sadly, Elizabeth did not long survive the last birth, and nor did baby Thomas.  Mother and child were buried together on 2 June 1759 at St. Marylebone church.

The children were well provided for.  Douglas was articled to train as a lawyer to John Benson, then County Treasurer for Middlesex, in 1773 for a period of five and a half years.  Launched into the world, he joined the Freemasons in 1779, but died in 1780. Joseph Mercer is more elusive.  He is mentioned in tax records as being co-owner of a house in Queen Anne Street in 1780, but he is otherwise invisible and is not mentioned in his father’s will written in 1797, so presumably he also died relatively young.  The three children who did outlive their father were the daughter, Elizabeth, and sons George and James.

James (1756-1810) carried on property development in and around Marylebone. He became a freemason in 1779 and was a director if the Westminster Fire Office in the 1780s. In 1807, when he was 51, he married Elizabeth Wood, who had been a servant of his father and to whom George had left a small annuity.  James then died in 1810 and in his will he made comfortable provision for his wife for life and his by then widowed sister and her children (they received a total of £4000, a house and some other property). The residue and reversion went to his elder brother George.  Elizabeth Mercer (1752—1829) had married John Ainslie (1747—1784) in 1774; they lived in Bolsover Street and had three children before John died in 1784. Thereafter, the Mercer family took the widow and her small children under their wing and provided for their future.

What of George, the eldest son?  The first George had made a fortune as a mason and property developer; his son had increased the fortune and consolidated it.  As substantial and wealthy property owners, it was clearly time to move up the social scale.  For young George (1754—1822), it was the army.  First commissioned into the Dragoons, he seems to have pursued a largely undistinguished military career, although he did manage to end up as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 1st Life Guards and along the way marry Jean Henderson (1760—1814), the daughter of a Scottish Baronet, a catch which eventually led to the inheritance of a minor estate in Scotland and the later generations adding the surname Henderson.  Their three sons were all military, with the youngest, Douglas Mercer-Henderson (1785—1854), having a particularly glittering career.

 

 

Of Tartary

The Universal Pocket Companion (3rd edition, 1760), mostly comprises ready-reckoner type tables as well as information on weights, measures, and currencies, and a lengthy listing of London merchants.  All good practical information.

upc_contents

The book also includes brief summaries of history and geography. Here we see what those who were commoditizing information felt should be part of the mental furniture of the mildly-educated mid-eighteenth century Londoner.  From the geography section, here is the one-paragraph summary of Tartary.

OF TARTARY—The Air of this Country is very different by Reason of its vast Extent from North to South: The most Southern Parts having the same Latitude with the middle Provinces of Spain and the most Northern reaching beyond the arctick polar Circle. The longest Day in the North is about two Months, and the shortest in the South nine Hours and three Quarters.  The Manners of the People are very rude and barbarous; their ordinary Food is Horse-Flesh, and they live in Tents and open Fields. The Religion is Paganism in the North and towards the South Mahometism prevails.  The Great Cham of Tartar is an absolute Monarch, and assumes such a proud Superiority over his Subjects as never to be spoke to but upon their Knee with their Faces towards the Ground. His Subjects stile him the Shadow of God; he looks upon himself as the Monarch of the whole World; and every Day after he has dined, he causes the Trumpets to sound, thereby giving Leave to all the Kings and Princes of the Earth to go to Dinner. The chief Commodities of this Country are Sable, Martins, Silk, Camblets, Flax, Musk, Cinnamon, and great Quantities of Rhubarb.

Now you know all that it was deemed necessary for you to know about Tartary.

Back in the day, this book would have set you back three shillings.  If you missed your chance at the time, you can now get a look at it free with an internet connection through the magic of Google Books.

 

The Military Mercers

Alexander Cavalié Mercer (1783—1868) is quite well-known due to his command of a troop of horse artillery at the Battle of Waterloo, and his subsequent memoir of the campaign, Journal of the Waterloo Campaign (1870). The rest of the family has not received so much recognition.

Alexander Cavalié’s father, Alexander Mercer (ca. 1739—1816) had a distinguished career in the Royal Engineers, rising ultimately to become a General and Colonel Commandant. Joining the army in 1759 he saw service in the Seven Years’ War in France and the Mediterranean, in the American War of Independence, in the West Indies, at Guernsey, and in England. Alexander Mercer and his wife, Thedosia Dickson, had five children who survived to adulthood, of whom all four sons served in the armed forces, and the daughter married a naval Captain.

Alexander Cavalié was the eldest.  He is said to have been the second son, but the first must have died young and I have no record of him.  After attending the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1799. He served in Ireland for the first few years of his career and was part of the unfortunate attempt to seize Buenos Aires in 1807. He then languished in England until called upon to lead his company of Royal Horse Artillery to the Continent in 1815. Although his account of the Waterloo campaign has assured his fame, the fact that he had disobeyed Wellington’s orders during the battle did nothing to enhance his career. Shortly after his return to England in 1816 he was reduced to half pay. He had married Frances (Fanny) Rice (1793—1817), daughter of an English clergyman, in 1813. They had lost their first child, but after the war was over, while his company was still in France, she joined him and her presence gives a light touch to the latter portions of the narrative (he refers to her only as F.). In 1817, they had another son, Cavalié Alexander Mercer (1817—1882), but Fanny died, and was buried three days after the child was born.

Eventually, Alexander Cavalié was reinstated in the Army and posted to Canada in 1823.  After a spell in England, he was gain sent to Canada, serving there from 1837 to 1842 as a lieutenant-colonel in command of the artillery at Nova Scotia. While there he made a number sketches and watercolours, some of which are now held by the National Gallery of Canada.

mercer_charlesbourg

After his service in Canada, he returned to England, gradually rising through the ranks to become a general and colonel-commandant of the 9th brigade of the Royal Artillery.

The second of Alexander Mercer’s children was the daughter, named Theodosia after her mother. Theodosia Mercer (1784—1881) married Hector Frederick McNeill, a Captain in the Royal Navy, in 1804.  They do not appear to have had any children and after she was widowed she lived for a time in Scotland with her aunt, before moving to Devon to live near her brother.

Next was Augustus Cavalie Mercer (1785—1825). He joined the 9th Regiment of Foot, becoming Lieutenant in 1804 and Captain in 1805. In 1808, the 9th Foot deployed to Portugal as part of the British forces in the Peninsular War, and it was on board ship at Lisbon that in 1809 he married Mary Anne March, presumably of the March trading family in Lisbon. In 1814, back in England, Augustus became a Captain of one of the new Garrison Companies, although he was placed on half pay in November 1816. He died in 1825 in the military hospital at Chatham. He and Mary Anne do not appear to have had any children.

The third brother was Cavalie Shorthose Mercer (1789—1819). He was the only one to follow his father into the Royal Engineers, becoming 2nd Lieutenant in 1804 and 1st Lieutenant in 1805, and posted to Gibraltar in late 1805.  He was one of the first engineers to go to Portugal at the beginning of the Peninsular War in August 1808. In 1810 he was promoted to 2nd Captain and made Captain in October 1813.  At some point he met and married a young Cornish girl, Elizabeth Birt Alice Holmes (1800—1863) and they had two daughters, Theodosia Alice Sterling baptized on the first of January 1818 in Cornwall, and Henrietta Fyers Mercer baptized 31 December 1818 in Bermuda.

The posting to Bermuda was unfortunate.  In 1819 there was a severe outbreak of yellow fever which ravaged the company and killed Cavalie Shorthose. His will closes, “My dear father and mother and brother in law I have ever regarded you with the tenderest esteem never neglect my children”. The History of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners, by Thomas Connolly says, “An epidemic fever of a severe character raged at Bermuda during the months of August and September, and out of a company of fifty-two total, no less than one sergeant, twenty rank and file, three women, and one child, fell victims to its virulence. Captain Cavalie S. Mercer who commanded the company, was also numbered with the dead”.

His young widow returned to England with her two small daughters.  In 1822, she married John Reed of the 62nd Regiment of Foot.  In 1830 the regiment was posted to India and there her elder daughter Theodosia died at Bangalore in 1832, aged 15. John Reed himself, by then a Lieutenant-Colonel died in 1835. For her third husband, she married a Cornish doctor, John Francis Duke Yonge (1814—1879) in 1839 in Brussels.  Meanwhile, Henrietta had married John Martin Müller in Edinburgh.  They had a daughter Theodosia Yonge Müller, born in 1839, but Henrietta died the same year, only three months after her mother’s third marriage. Theodosia Yonge Müller was the only grandchild of Alexander Mercer to have children, and it is through her that the last of his line descends.

The youngest son was Henry Courthose Mercer (1790—1820). He joined the Royal Navy, being commissioned a Lieutenant on 17 March 1810.  He then served on a wide variety of ships, including the Plover, Hermes, San Josef, Queen Charlotte, Tonnant, Manly, and Puissant, before gaining his own command of the Badger, a revenue cutter patrolling the English Channel for smugglers. An account of their chase and capture of the Iris, laden with smuggled brandy, gin, tea, and tobacco is included in The Fine Art of Smuggling: King’s Cutters Vs Smugglers, 1700-1855, by E. Keble Chatterton. That was in November 1819, and a year later he died at Dover after a short illness.

In the ten years after Waterloo, Alexander Cavalié’s father died, as did his wife, and all three of his brothers.  Robert Pocock, who was instrumental in renovating Mercer’s grave, is working on a biography of him and hopefully we will hear more of his story when it is published.

 

 

 

 

Casualties of War

The Battle of Waterloo left 40000 men and 10000 horses dead on the field. Between cavalry, dragoons, officer’s mounts, and draft animals, the armies of the day were heavily dependent on horses, and so the horses also became casualties.  Among those present at the battle was Captain Alexander Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery. His company of guns and horses were in the thick of battle all day and took many losses.  In his memoir, Journal of the Waterloo Campaign (1870), he writes movingly of one of these casualties.

A distressing circumstance connected with this (shall I confess it?) made even more impression on my spirits than the misfortune of Gunner Hunt.  Bolton’s people had not been long engaged when we saw the men of the gun next to us unharness one of the horses and chase it away, wounded, I supposed; yet the beast stood and moved with firmness, going from one carriage to the other, whence I noticed he was always eagerly driven away. At last two or three gunners drove him before them to a considerable distance, and then returned to their guns. I took little notice of this at the time, and was surprised by an exclamation of horror from some of my people in the rear. A sickening sensation came over me, mixed with a deep feeling of pity, when within a few paces of me stood the poor horse in question, side by side with the leaders of one of our ammunition wagons, against which he pressed his panting sides, as though eager to identify himself as of their society—the driver, with horror depicted on every feature, endeavouring by words and gestures (for the kind-hearted lad could not strike) to drive from him so hideous a spectacle. A cannon-shot had completely carried away the lower part of the animal’s head, immediately below the eyes. Still he lived, and seemed fully conscious of all around, whilst his full, clear eye seemed to implore us not to chase him from his companions. I ordered the farrier (Price) to put him out of his misery, which, in a few minutes, he reported having accomplished, by running his sabre into the animal’s heart.  Even he evinced feeling on this occasion.  (vol I, pp. 304—305)

The incident clearly made a deep impression on Mercer and was vivid when he wrote his Journal decades later.  And indeed, it still stands as a poignant reminder of the pain, suffering, and death inflicted by battle.

The Tale of Ismail Khairi Bey

In the mid-nineteenth century, Syria (which then included much of modern Lebanon) was under Ottoman rule, and it was a troublesome province with a restless population that did not always embrace Turkish dominance and taxes. The hinterlands of Ansyria were crucial for trade routes and the prosperity of coastal cities such as Tripoli, and so the region attracted the attention of the European powers as well as the Turkish overlords. Along with political and economic discontent, there was also a combustible mix of religions including substantial populations of Druze, Christians, and Muslims. There had been rebellions before and there would be massacres later.  Our tale takes place in late 1858, not long after the end of the Crimean War.

Khairi Bey was a local chieftain in the Ansyrian mountains, ruler of Safita. He had annoyed the Turkish authorities by insufficient tribute and they stirred up the local Muslim population against him, while invading his territory from two directions.  This minor footnote in history is partially illuminated by some British diplomatic correspondence. We begin with a letter from Cavalié Alexander Mercer, British Vice-Consul in Tripoli to his superior, Consul-General Moore in Beirut.

October 26, 1858.
I have the honour to inclose a communication which I have just received from Ismael Khairi bey, and shall await your decision before I venture to return any answer… He is in a scrape certainly; the Turkish troops are preparing to attack him from all sides, and all the Moslem population is against him. The Christians speak well of him, and he appears to have governed his district comparatively well, and always paid the miri, &c. He wishes for support at this juncture, to insure his meeting with justice from the Government, and offers to proceed to Beyrout [Beirut] and abide the issue of his trial, if his enemies will do the same.  He has great influence over the whole Ansyrié population. As the troops are soon about to invade his territory, and time is precious, I am anxious for your orders as soon as possible, to know what to say or do.

Khairi Bey was in trouble, and he turned to the British to use their influence to guarantee him a safe passage, and a fair trial. Moore took the request to the local Turkish rule, Khorsheed Pasha, who “promised that Khairi Bey should have a fair trial if he surrendered himself to the Turkish military authorities”. The following day, Moore wrote back to Mercer with the news and told Mercer to impress upon Khairi Bey that a) the British had intervened diplomatically on his behalf, and b) they were offering no guarantees:

You will give Khairi Bey to understand that this is the result of the representations made by me on his behalf. At the same time he must be made to understand that no guarantee is given either on my part, or on that of any other British officer, in regard to the fulfillment of the Pasha’s promises.  It would be right that you should impress on Khairi Bey the risk he runs either in defying the Turkish authorities or in countenancing others of his countrymen in doing so.

Perhaps Khairi Bey found these assurances inadequate, or needed more time, or hadn’t reckoned on the intransigence of Tahir Pasha. At any rate, he sought safety with family. On November 22, 1858, Mercer again wrote to Moore:

Sir, I have the honour to inform you that Ismail Khair Bey, of Safita, was murdered last week at Karm-el-Aiounh, the residence of Aly Shallal, his uncle, with whom he had taken refuge on the approach of the troops under the command of Tahir Pasha. Aly Shallal was outlawed by the Ottoman Government and agreed to put Ismael Bey to death for a free pardon and the possession of the treasure this last had accumulated. When this agreement took place Aly Shallal’s house was surrounded by the Turkish soldiers, who feared to attack it as the position is very strong. Ismael Bey was informed by his uncle that his brother was dead; while under the influence of this intelligence Aly Shallal shot him in the side, and one of his men dispatched him, blowing his brains out. Hi sons (quite children) were being led off to Tahir Pasha as prisoners, when Aly Shallal, remembering that if they grew up there would be a blood feud between them, had them recalled and also put to death.  The heads of Ismael Bey and his brother have been sent, I hear, to Damascus, while their wives have been shared between Aly Shallal and others of his gang.

 

John Barrett, Wax-chandler

Ann Pratt was the only one of Joseph Pratt’s (1697—1768) children to outlive him. She married John Barrett, a wax-chandler with a shop in the Haymarket, London. Although she lived on until 1790, dying “of a lingering illness” (Whitehall Evening Post, August 26, 1790), they appear to have had only one (surviving) child, Isaac Bryant Barrett (1764—1802).

John Barrett was the grandson of Nicholas Barrett (d. 1721), himself a wax-chandler, and Letitia Hancock (d. 1749). Nicholas and Letitia had two children that survived, Isaac Barrett (ca. 1707—1792), John’s father, and Bryant Barrett (1715—1790). As the children were minors when he died, Nicholas Barrett left specific legacies in his will for each of them when they should attain majority before giving the residue to his wife.

In due course Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an eminent wax-chandler.  Following an apprenticeship, he became free of the Worshipful Company of Wax-Chandlers in 1730 and eventually rose to become Master of the Company in 1762.  Along the way he gained a royal patent, thus supplying the royal palaces with wax candles (wax was more of a luxury item than tallow). This was doubtless a steady and lucrative contract.

The younger son, Bryant Barrett, followed a different, and somewhat more colorful, trajectory. In 1730, he was apprenticed to William Basnett, a laceman, and then pursued that career.  In the context of the times, a lacemaker, or wire drawer, was someone who made luxury items from gold and silver wire, such as braids, buttons, fringes, etc.  Bryant, too, rose to the top of his trade, becoming “lacemaker to his Majesty”. Lacemaking was a lucrative, but chancy business.  As a purveyor of élite luxury items, one could charge high prices, but the only people who could afford them were those who didn’t pay their debts. According to (Murphy 2010, 111) in 1761, “the combined debts to Barrett’s firm of the King, the Princess of Wales, the Master of the Horse, the Duke of York, and Princes William and Henry amounted to over £18000”. A tradesman needed a deep pocket to stay solvent.

Bryant Barrett’s life was also complicated by being an inordinate bibliophile (an expensive hobby at the best of times), and a Catholic, which closed many avenues to him in England at the time. Nevertheless, he bought a country house, Milton Manor in Berkshire, extending it with two wings (one for a library) designed by Stephen Wright of the Board of Works. Bryant Barrett’s nephew’s brother-in-law (i.e., Ann Pratt’s brother Thomas) had recently married Stephen Wright’s daughter. Bryant Barrett married twice, had a number of children and managed to hold his precarious finances together for his long life, although possibly not by much.  After he died, his brother Isaac made a codicil in his will giving £100 to the widow and children.

Meanwhile, Isaac Barrett had two sons that survived: John Barrett, and his younger brother, another Bryant Barrett (1743—1809). John Barrett succeeded his father in running the business in the Haymarket, making much of his Royal contract in his newspaper advertisements in the 1780’s. He also received a patent in 1784 for a dripless chandelier.

Barrett ad

John’s brother Bryant was also in the wax business, usually referred to as a “wax-bleacher”.  He married Elizabeth Tyers (1759—1834), granddaughter, and eventual heiress, of Jonathan Tyers (1702—1767), the developer of Vauxhall Gardens, and so Bryant Barrett took over that business after the death of his father-in-law  in 1792.

Vauxhall_Gardens_by_Samuel_Wale_c1751

Sources

Murphy, M. ‘The King’s laceman and the bishop’s friend: Bryant Barrett (c. 1715—1790), merchant and squire’, Recusant History 30 (1), (2010), 107—119.