Category Archives: People

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.

Joseph Pratt, Bricklayer

When Thomas Howlett (1678—1759) was appointed master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works in 1736 in the place of Thomas Churchill, deceased, he shared the appointment with Joseph Pratt.  Thomas Howlett had been bricklayer to the Prince of Wales, and doubtless owed his new position to that patronage.  What of Joseph Pratt?

Joseph Pratt, junior, (1697—1768) was a well-respected bricklayer, being Master Bricklayer to the Office of Ordnance and was son to Joseph Pratt (d. 1750) also a bricklayer.  In fact both father and son in turn rose to become Masters of The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of the City of London, in 1721 and 1740 respectively.  Possibly of even more importance, Joseph Pratt had married Thomas Churchill’s only child, Elizabeth (1707-1768).

Joseph Pratt senior and his wife Elizabeth had (at least) nine children, but seven of them died in infancy, including the last four, all of whom died at less than 6 months of age. The survivors were James and Joseph.  James Pratt (1705—1740) also became a bricklayer “to his Majesty”, but died in 1740 apparently without leaving any wife or children.  Joseph Pratt junior and Elizabeth had four children who lived to adulthood, three girls and a boy.

The son, Thomas Pratt, also became a bricklayer, and, on the death of Thomas Howlett in 1759, succeeded in his place as joint Master Bricklayer to the Board of Works with his father. Thomas Pratt married on 23 June 1760 Mary Wright, daughter of Stephen Wright of the Office of Works, at that point Deputy Surveyor. Thomas and Mary had two children, Joseph and Charlotte before Thomas died in 1762. After his son’s death, Joseph Pratt held the office alone until his own passing in 1768, upon which the office was abolished.

Joseph Pratt and his son Thomas both married into the Office of Works. The daughters also married into similar circles. Sarah married James Morris, Master Carpenter of the Board of Ordnance, son of Roger Morris, Master Carpenter to the Board of Ordnance. Sarah died in 1760 without leaving any children. Elizabeth, who also sadly died young in 1759, married George Mercer, Master mason, and left several children.

The only one of Joseph Pratt’s children to outlive him was his daughter Ann.  She married outside of the craftsmen group, to a well-off tradesman, John Barrett, wax-chandler to His Majesty.

We shall have more to say of the interconnections of these families at the top of their trades in mid-eighteenth-century London.

The Bricklayers Labours

In 1734 and 1735, Robert Tatersal of Kingston-upon-Thames, spurred on by the success of Stephen Duck, produced two slim volumes of poetry, titled The Bricklayer’s Miscellany. The poems are on diverse subjects, but in “The Bricklayers Labours” he spoke uniquely of the daily life of the artisan.

At length the soft Nocturnal Minutes fly,
And crimson Blushes paint the orient Sky;
When by a kind of drowsy Stretch and Yawn,
I ope my Eyes, and view the Scarlet Dawn;
But stealing Sleep my Vitals still surprise,
And with a slumb’ring Softness seal my Eyes,
Till open Light corroborates the Day,
And through the Casement darts his signal Ray;
When up I start, and view the eastern Sky,
And by my Mark find Six o’Clock is nigh:
Then hanging on my Thread-Bare Coat and Hose,
My Hat, my Cap, my Breeches, and my Shoes;
With Sheep-skin Apron girt about my Waste,
Down Stairs I go to visit my Repast;
Which rarely doth consist of more than these,
A Quartern Loaf, and half a Pound of Cheese;
Then in a Linnen Bag, on purpose made,
My Day’s allowance o’re my Shoulder’s laid:
And first, to keep the Fog from coming in,
I whet my Whistle with a Dram of Gin;
So thus equip’d, my Trowel in my Hand,
I haste to Work, and join the ragged Band:
And now each one his different Post assign’d,
And three to three in Ranks completely join’d;
When Bricks and Mortar eccho’s from on high,
Mortar and Bricks, the common, constant Cry;
Each sturdy Slave their different Labours share,
Some Brickmen call’d, and some for Mortar are:
With sultry Sweat and blow without Allay,
Travel the Standard up and down all Day;
And now the Sun with more exalted Ray,
With glowing Beams distributes riper Day,
When amidst Dust and Smoke, and Sweat and Noise,
A Line, a Line, the Foreman crys, my Boys;
When Tuck and Pat with Flemish bound they run,
Till the whole Course is struck, compleat, and done:
Then on again, while two exalts the Quoin,
And draws the midmost Men another Line.
The Course laid out, when thro’ the fleeting Air,
A solemn Sound salutes the willing Ear;
When universal Yo-ho’s echo strait,
Our constant Signal to the Hour of Eight.
And now precipitant away we steer,
To eat our Viands, and to get some Beer;
Where midst the Clamour, Noise and smoky Din
of Dust, Tobacco, Chaws, and drinking gin,
The short Half-hour we merrily do spin.
When for Desert some with their Sun-burnt Fists,
Cram in a Chaw of Half an Ounce at least,
And then to sweep the Passage clean within,
Wash down their Throats a Quartern full of Gin.
And now again the Signal greets our Ear,
We’re called to Book, must at the Bar appear:
When the grim Host examines what we’ve done,
And scores sometimes devoutly two for one;
And now refresh’d again we mount on high,
While on calls Mortar, others Bricks do cry;
And then a Line, a Line’s the constant Sound,
By Line and Rule our daily Labour’s crown’d.
While to divert the sult’ry Hours along,
One tells a Tale, another sings a Song:
And now the Sun with full Meridian Ray,
With scorching Beams confirms the perfect Day.
Full Twelve a Clock the Labourers cry Yo-ho,
When some to Sleep, and some to Dinner go:
Some that have Victuals eat; others who’ve none,
Supply the Place with Drink and Gin alone.
Mod’rate in Food, but in good Beer profuse,
Which for the Heat we modestly excuse.
And now the gliding Minutes almost gone,
And a loud Noise proclaims the Hour of One;
Again we re-assume the dusty Stage,
The Mortar chas’d again we do engage.
This the most tedious Part of all the Day,
Full five Hours Space to toil without Allay:
Now parch’d with Hear, and almost chok’d with Dust,
We join our Pence to satiate our Thirst:
At length the Western Breezes gently play,
And Sol declining moderates his Ray;
Now the approaching welcome Hour draws near,
And now again the Signal glads our Ear;
The happy Hour we waited for all Day,
At length arrives our Labours to repay.
And now the Tools reposited with Care,
Until the morning Rays again appear;
Some homewards bend, some to the Alehouse steer,
Others more sober feast on better Cheer.
But when the Days contract an dwint’ry Hours rise,
And sable Clouds and Fogs invest the Skies,
When Frost and Cold congeals the Atmosphere,
And Trees disrob’d and hoary Fields appear;
When all the Earth in Ice and Snow is bound,
And nought but Desolation all around,
Then haples me! I wander up and down,
With half an Apron, wond’rous greasy grown!
With anxious Looks my Countenance is clad,
And all my Thoughts are like the Winter, sad!
This scene of Life corrodes y troubled Mind,
I seek for Work; but none, alas! can find;
Sometimes, by Chance, I have a Grate to set,
To hang a Copper, or a Hole repleat;
A Day or two to exercise my Skill,
But seldom more reluctant to my Will:
And this I pass the tedious Winter on,
Sometimes Repast I have, and sometimes none;
Till cheerful Phoebus with a grateful Ray,
Thro’ vernal Airs explores his will Way;
Dispells all Cares, and gladdens every Vein,
And all the joyous Scene revolves again.

His poems do not seem to have been successful.

Thomas Howlett, Bricklayer

The first George Warren, master carpenter at Kew, married local girl Elizabeth Howlett (1703—1766), daughter of a bricklayer. However, this description is a little misleading.

The Warrens and Howletts both owned land around Kew Green and as the royal family became more interested in Kew and Richmond and expanded their building works, the Howletts prospered.  Elizabeth’s father, Thomas Howlett (1678—1759) became bricklayer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1736, together with Joseph Pratt, he was appointed Master Bricklayer of His Majesty’s Works. Thomas Howlett and Joseph Pratt were thus in charge of all brickwork in the royal residences.

Along with his daughter Elizabeth, Thomas Howlett also had a son, Thomas (1704—1737), but these are the only children of his that I know about.  Thomas junior was also a bricklayer, continuing the family line of work.  When Thomas died, he left a house “in the Occupation of Lady Judith Coote” to his father for life and then to his sister and his brother-in-law George Warren.  George Warren died in 1755 and the next year his father-in-law made a will with provisions for the children of his sister and for his grandchildren.  The eldest, George, was given £100 and three of his siblings £200 each.  However, George and Elizabeth had wisely named one of their children Thomas Howlett Warren (1733—1777); he got the bulk of the estate.  While the younger George was a carpenter, and his brother William a carpenter and wheelwright, Thomas Howlett became a gentleman.  By the time of his death in 1777 his estate included at least 15 buildings at Kew, including the Rose and Crown pub and, rather charmingly, “a large workshop adjoining the stable, occupied by his Majesty, now in the possession of Mrs. Warren”.