Tag Archives: Gainsborough

Edward Vernon

The Hon. Edward Vernon, Esq, subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account. As the “Hon.” indicates, he was at the time an MP, representing Ipswich. Although not originally from Suffolk, he had bought an estate at Nacton, a few miles southeast of Ipswich and built a house there. Vernon was a naval and political man, more celebrated, and more voluble, than Ellis Brand. Edward Vernon (1684—1757) was the second son of James Vernon, who had been Secretary of State under William III. Born in Westminster, he attended Westminster school, studying mathematics and astronomy along with the usual languages. In 1700, Vernon began his naval career as a volunteer on the Shrewsbury, which sounds modest enough, until you discover that the Shrewsbury was the flag-ship of Admiral Sir George Rooke. Vernon rose ranks rapidly, becoming a captain in 1706, by which time he was in the Mediterranean with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet and had been present at the capture of Barcelona. On their return to England, several ships, including Admiral Shovell’s flagship, were wrecked off the Isles of Scilly and a couple of thousand men, including Admiral Shovell, were lost. With his own command, Vernon was no longer on the flagship and survived. By 1708, he had been sent to support Commodore Charles Wager’s squadron in the Caribbean, arriving just too late to take part in Wager’s Action. Vernon continued to advance and by 1719 was commander-in-chief of his majesty’s ships at Jamaica. England was at war with Spain, and much Spanish treasure flowed through the Caribbean, but Vernon did not see much action at this point. Back in England, Vernon was elected MP for the first time in 1722, as member for Penryn in Cornwall (his father had held this seat several times earlier). Vernon’s father died in 1717, and in 1729 he married Sarah Best. They would have three sons, all of whom, sadly, died young. By this time, Vernon had bought his estate at Nacton and settled as a Suffolk gentleman, his fractious nature and intemperate language having caused a break in his political career. In 1739 he returned to naval service and was sent out to the West Indies just as war again broke out with Spain (the War of Jenkins’ Ear). Soon after his arrival, he led the successful attack on the town of Porto Bello. Porto Bello was a small town, but the port through which all Spanish silver from Peru passed. When the news reached England, there was massive celebrating. The restrained DNB records,

The rejoicing went far beyond the usual celebrations of victory. Vernon became a national hero almost overnight. Both houses of parliament voted their thanks and the City of London made him a freeman. Addresses of congratulations came to the king from across the country. His popular appeal was immense. Medals, pottery, road names, and public house signs bore the name Vernon or Porto Bello and his birthday became a day of celebration across the country.

Mount Vernon was also named after him. Vernon’s next target was Cartagena. He launched a massive amphibious assault, the troops being commanded by Major-General Thomas Wentworth. Such an assault against a heavily-fortified position was a race against time – as men who succumbed to wounds or disease could not be replaced. Despite initial successes, the attack failed as disease took its toll. A later attempt against Panama fared no better. Vernon and Wentworth did not get along, and Vernon, in his dispatches and private letters, attempted to discredit Wentworth. Despite his failure, Vernon was still popular in England and, on his return in late 1742, he found he had been elected MP for Ipswich while away. In 1745 he was promoted to Admiral, but his fractious nature, intemperate language and leaked correspondence with the Admiralty caused the King to have him struck off the flag list in 1746. He rumbled away in parliament, but his influence was waning. Horace Walpole acidly described him as, “a silly, noisy admiral … his courage was greater than his sense, his reputation was much greater than his courage”. Vernon was always concerned about the health of sailors and his other claim to fame stems from diluting their daily ration of rum with water and then ordering the addition of lime juice to counter the bad taste of the water. Although the benefits of citrus at sea were not fully understood at the time, his sailors were healthier than average, and suffered much less from scurvy.  Vernon’s nickname was `Old Grog’ from his habit of wearing a of a grogram coat, and the sailors gave the name to the new drink. Gainsborough painted Admiral Vernon around 1753; the portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection. For more on Admiral Vernon, start at his Wikipedia page, or DNB entry. For more details on the ships he commanded, see the wonderful threedecks.org site. Admiral Vernon was preceded as MP for Ipswich by William Wollaston

Samuel Kilderbee (1725—1813)

Samuel Kilderbee was an Ipswich lawyer, now remembered chiefly for being a life-long friend of Thomas Gainsborough. He had a successful career as an attorney, in particular representing Nathaniel Acton in many legal transactions. In 1755, during the period of political turmoil in Ipswich, he was installed as Town Clerk, a position he retained until 1767. It is unclear if the Gainsboroughs had known the Kilderbees before Gainsborough’s move to Ipswich after his London training, but it is certainly possible. The Kilderbee family had been living for several generations in Framlingham, while Gainsborough was from Sudbury, on the other side of Ipswich.  Once they did meet, they became firm friends until the end, although, as with much of Gainsborough’s life, direct evidence is scanty. From Gainsborough’s letters, we know his family visited the Kilderbees from London in the 1770’s, and Gainsborough and Kilderbee made a tour of the Lake District in 1783. Gainsborough made Kilderbee `overseer’ of the execution of his will and Kilderbee visited Gainsborough on his death-bed, where he reported that Gainsborough, “regretted the dissolute life he had led, but added, `They must take me altogether, liberal, thoughtless, and dissipated.'” William Jackson said that Gainsborough’s letters to Kilderbee were `brilliant but eccentric, and too licentious to be published’, and indeed they never were.

Early on, Gainsborough painted portraits of Kilderbee (at least twice), his wife, and one of her brothers.

Later, he painted a portrait of the Kilderbee’s son, the Rev. Samuel Kilderbee.

The Kilderbee family had some interesting naming conventions. Samuel Kilderbee’s grandfather, Francis, had married one Elizabeth, the only daughter of a Suffolk apothecary called Samuel Dover. They named their sons Dover and Samuel. In due course, Elizabeth inherited from her father, and this enabled Francis, a successful draper in Framlingham, to buy some land for his elder son to inherit in his turn. Dover went on to Cambridge and success, but died without issue, and the prosperity passed to his younger brother Samuel, who had taken on the family draper business. Samuel married Alethea Sparrow (we will hear more about the Sparrows later), and they in turn had two sons, Samuel the lawyer, and his brother John, who continued the family business into another generation. Samuel’s wife Mary was the daughter of a landowner Daniel Wayth. They had one son, the Rev. Samuel Kilderbee above, who was renowned for his wit and amusing conversation, and for living beyond his, by now quite substantial, means. Fortunately, the Rev. Samuel married a widow who could contribute to the family coffers, Caroline Waddington, daughter of Samuel Horsey. Their only son, Spencer Horsey Kilderbee, married Lady Louisa Maria Judith Rous, daughter of an Earl, and went on to be an MP under the rather splendid name of Spencer Horsey de Horsey.

Dover Kilderbee and one of the Samuels were subscribers to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective, and (a) Samuel and John subscribed to the second edition of the Suffolk Traveller.

Sir Richard Lloyd

Sir Richard Lloyd (?1697-1761) was one of the Ipswich portmen who lost their posts in the 1755 coup. He had also recently lost the election to be M.P. However, one doesn’t need to feel too sorry for him. As a consolation, he was made Solicitor-General.

Lloyd had been Recorder of Ipswich since 1739, and had represented other constituencies around the country. After his failure at Ipswich, he became M.P. for Totnes. He was probably born in 1697 at Lichfield. His father was Talbot Lloyd, and his mother, Elizabeth Savage, was a natural daughter of his father’s commanding officer, the infamous General Lord Rivers. He went to Lichfield School and then on to Cambridge before training for the law in Middle Temple and being called to the bar in 1723. In the 1720s he married Elizabeth Field (or Feild), whose mother, Arabella Savage, had been another natural daughter of Lord Rivers. They had two sons and two daughters.

Lloyd was knighted in 1745 on the occasion of the loyal address after the Jacobite rising, and he was one of the prosecutors in Lord Lovat’s trial in 1746. Also in 1745, the 90-year old dowager countess of Winchelsea, widow of Heneage Finch, the 3rd Earl of Winchelsea, died, leaving Lloyd her entire estate `inexplicably’, says the DNB. This inheritance supported him in Parliament and enabled him to buy Hintlesham Hall, near Ipswich, in 1747.

Sir Richard Lloyd was also an early patron of Thomas Gainsborough in his Suffolk days. The earliest portrait Gainsborough did of members of the family is that of the eldest son, Richard Savage Lloyd and his mother, possibly as early as 1745 or 1746.

Around 1750, Gainsborough painted the elder sister, Cecil,

and also the two youngest children, Heneage and his sister Lucy:

Finally, sometime in the 1750s, although the date is uncertain, Gainsborough painted Sir Richard himself.

Sir Richard was an MP until 1759, resigning when he was appointed a judge. He was a supporter of Kirby’s, subscribing to both the Historical Account and the Method of Perspective, and knew the family well. The eldest brother of Kirby, John, born in 1715, had been trained as a lawyer, and was a junior partner to Lloyd. When John was appointed Under-Treasurer at the Middle Temple in 1748 (Lloyd was Treasurer), Lloyd wrote to him, that “the gentlemen that nominated you cannot and will not repent; for if honour, honesty, and stedfastness are required, they could not have pitched upon so proper a person as yourself, for I can answer that every one of those qualifications are thoroughly grafted in you”. Unfortunately, John Kirby died in 1750.

John Gravenor

John Gravenor (1700—1778) of Ipswich was an apothecary and a steady supporter of Kirby’s work. He subscribed to both the Historical Account and the first edition of the Method of Perspective, as well as the second edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveler. He also, unsurprisingly, subscribed to Richard Canning’s Account of the Gifts and Legacies that have been given and bequeathed to Charitable Uses in the Town of Ipswich.

Gravenor stood for bailiff of Ipswich in the bitter election of 1754. Although the election was decisive, with Gravenor and Thomas Richardson gaining 363 and 362 votes respectively to 237 and 236 for the opposing ticket of Humphry Rant and William Hammond, the outgoing bailiffs Michael Thirkle and John Sparowe refused to concede. Susan Mitchell Sommers, in her Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century explains that they would not hand over their offices and town records until a royal order forced them to comply. Sommers also notes that such was the depth of party loyalty that only one voter split the ticket (the delightfiully-named William Scarlet). Among other offices, Gravenor was re-elected bailiff in 1757, 1760, 1762, and 1764. Rant, Hammond, Thirkle and Sparowe were all among Kirby’s subscribers, presumably indicating that Suffolk antiquities transcended party politics.

At a similar time, around 1752 to 1754, Gainsborough painted the Gravenor family of John, his second wife Ann Colman (whom he had married in 1739), and their daughters Ann and Elizabeth.

Although this conversation piece comes after the famous Andrews portrait, Gainsborough had some difficulty with the figures. Malcolm Cormack, in The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, refers to “the faint air that the sitters are pushing their heads though a seaside photographer’s canvas, while they fall gently sideways”. However, Cormack also points out that “Gainsborough has achieved a dazzle of shot silk and surface flicker by the most complicated means”, and Rosenthal draws attention to the motif of the crossed trees representing marriage. I like the way he sets off each face with a dark background: the dark foliage behind John Gravenor; the tree trunk behind his wife; the darkest cloud behind Ann, and the shadowed dress behind Elizabeth.

Rev. John Clubbe (1703—1773)

The Rev. John Clubbe was one of Gainsborough’s drinking buddies in Suffolk and known as an author of humorous and satirical tracts. His is a gentle and leisurely humor, said with a twinkle of his eye, rather than a snarl of the lips.

Born in Suffolk around 1703, he went up to Cambridge, graduating B.A. from King’s College in 1725. He was ordained (as a deacon) in 1725 and became vicar of Debenham in Suffolk in 1730. In 1735, he succeeded his father, Rev. George Clubbe, as Rector of Whatfield, a post he retained for the rest of his life. Whatfield is about two miles from Hadleigh, and ten from Ipswich. In 1732, Clubbe married Susannah Beeston and they had twelve children, of whom eight survived him.

Clubbe’s first publication was a sermon from 1751, or, more fully, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the Relief of the Widows and Orphans of Clergymen within the County of Suffolk; at their anniversary meeting in the parish-church of St. Mary at Tower, Ipswich, on Thursday the 18th of July 1751. Published at the Request of several of the Members then present. By John Clubb, Rector of Whatfield, and Vicar of Debenham, Suffolk. This was his only strictly serious work. He followed the sermon in 1758 with, The history and antiquities of the ancient villa of Wheatfield, in the county of Suffolk, a burlesque on Morant’s History and Antiquities of Colchester published ten years earlier. To give you a feel for his writing, I quote the opening of his preface:

It is a customary Respect generally paid to the Reader to give him, by way of Preface, some Account of the Book he has been at the Expence of purchasing, and purposes to be at the Trouble of Reading : I call it Respect, in concert with my Fellow-writers ; but I do not, in the least, desire him to entertain a more favorable Opinion, either of my Manners, or of my Regard for him from this Circumstance ; for I can assure him, we durst not hazard our Works into the World, absolutely upon their own Bottom, but are obliged previously to point out the Beauties, &c. lest they should not strike the Reader so forcibly as, perhaps, they have us, the Authors, or Editors.

As this is one Reason, and generally the principal one, for Prefaces, so there is another, a much more humble one, which indeed gave Birth to this ; and that is to acquaint the Publick with what Labor, Injury to Health, and Loss of Eyes I have finished the following History. Indeed, courteous Reader, I have spent the major Part of a long Life in this Study, and I have inverted, as it were, the very Form of my Body in your Service ; which was once plumpish, and inclining to fat upwards, but by my Sedentariness is now fallen downwards, to the no small Increase of my Legs…

The text rolls on in similar vein. Later we read,

Nothing since the Conquest of this Island by the Duke of Normandy, commonly called WILLIAM the Conqueror, has happened to this Village in particular

And after exploring all the different historical groups leading to the present, the rector describes his parish as the melting-pot of Suffolk:

The present State of this Parish differs nothing from the ancient in Point of Fruitfulness. The People by Intermarriages, and other ways, have passed through so many Combinations, that they are all set down under the common Denomination of English. They are Christians, as appears most evidently from the Parish Register ; and all of them, when they do not stay at Home, go to the same Place of Worship ; except one — —, who retaining some Tenets of his British Paganism, pays his Devotions under an Oak, or a Walnut-Tree, with a modern Druid, every Sabbath-Day.

It was around this time that Gainsborough painted Clubbe’s portrait.

In 1763, Clubbe published his next work another spoof called Physiognomy, or to give its full 18th –century title, Physiognomy; being a sketch only of a larger work upon the same plan: wherein the different tempers, passions, and manners of men, will be particularly considered. This book is dedicated to Hogarth, who, as he did for Kirby, provided a frontispiece.

The caption reads “A. absolute Gravity, B. Conatus against absolute Gravity, C. partial Gravity, D. comparative Gravity, E. horizontal, or good Sence, F. Wit, G. comparative Levity or Coxcombe, H. partial Levity or pert Fool, I. absolute Levity or Stark Fool”, these being the heads under which Clubbe weighs his subjects.

In 1765, Clubbe published what probably became his best-known work, A letter of free advice to a young clergyman, which does exactly what it says. It is a serious work, and touches on some of the same themes of the life of the clergy that he explored in his sermon of 1751, but the advice is given with his customary gentle grace. Here is the opening:

Dear Sir,

If Age and Experience were always productive of Wisdom, you certainly judged right in asking my Advice, who have a great Share of both; for, on this Sea of Life, the Man, who lives to make the most Voyages, stands the best Chance of discovering the Rocks and Sands that lie concealed in it. But the Misfortune is, some Men keep no Journals at all, others will not be so kind to let us peruse theirs, and others have not Humanity enough to drop a cautionary Buoy for the Benefit of the next Adventurers ; as if they had an Interest in the Wreck, or took Pleasure in seeing Men drown. Old-Age oftentimes looks no farther backward than to the Funeral of it’s past Pleasures, not forward beyond it’s Crutches ; and Experience itself is frequently unaccompanied with Observation and Reflexion.

He also counsels the young clergyman against the dangers of sudden preferment:

You tell me you are now in full Orders, and think you could manage a good Rectory with a little of my Assistance.—I believe you could without it, as well as any one of your Years ; but excuse me if I do not desire to see you possessed of one at present. When Preferment comes very early in Life, I have seen many a rising Genius ruined by it ; some Men taking into a Life of Pleasure, others into an easy Chair of Sleep and Indolence, and others into Sordidness and Illiberality of Mind : So that Books stand upon their Shelves like Mural Monuments is some of our Churches covered over with Dust, to record the Idleness and Sloth of their departed Readers, as the other the Forgetfulness and Disrespect of their surviving Friends.

All in all, he seems to have been a genial and likeable person, loved by his family, and admired in his time, but less known now. So here’s to Rev. John Clubbe clinking tankards with Gainsborough at The Tankard in Ipswich.

Nathaniel Acton (1725—1795)

Nathaniel Acton was a wealthy, and successful, Suffolk landowner. The Actons had been landowners since the late 1500s, having made their money in the Ipswich cloth trade. They had expanded their holdings in the 17th century, buying assorted farms, woods, and meadows, a practice continued by Nathaniel in the second half of the 18th century.  Nathaniel Acton was the only son of Nathaniel Acton of Bramford Hall and his third wife Elizabeth Fowle. Nathaniel’s father had been a third son, and only inherited in 1743 due to the deaths of his older brothers without issue. He died in 1745.

Nathaniel was thus in his early twenties when he subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account, and in his early thirties when Gainsborough painted him in 1758. Gainsborough's portrait of Nathaniel Acton

In 1741, Nathaniel entered Bury school, where one John Wearg was a governor.  In 1753, Acton married Caroline Wearg, and Gainsborough painted her portrait, too. Gainsborough's portrait of Caroline Acton

Gainsborough also painted (possibly in the same year) Nathaniel’s sister, Elizabeth, who had married Richard Colvile.

Gainsborough's portrait of Elizabeth Colville

Nathaniel and Caroline had two children, Nathaniel and Harriet, before she died in 1761.  Nathaniel then married Dorothy Aspin of Bury St. Edmunds in the same year, and they had a daughter Caroline.  Dorothy lived until 1805. Her portrait was painted by Thomas Bardwell in 1762, but I do not have a picture to show you.  There is also a portrait of Nathaniel by Thomas Hudson, although I do not know the date. I must say he looks rather more dashing in the Hudson than the Gainsborough.

Hudson's portrait of Nathaniel Acton

Hadleigh St. Mary’s

Hadleigh is a small town in Suffolk. In the mid-1700s it was recorded as having a population of 2260. The town has a fine 15th-century church and a rather distinctive Deanery tower next to it.

In 1744, Joshua Kirby and Josiah Harris, a joiner and cabinet-maker from Ipswich, were commissioned by the rector, the Rev. Dr. David Wilkins, to make a new altarpiece for the church at a cost of some £170. The `Grecian-style’ altarpiece was removed during renovations in the mid-19th century. Dr. Wilkins died (of gout) in 1745. A new rector was appointed, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Tanner, who happened to be the son-in-law of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Around 1747 or 1748, Rev. Tanner commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint a view of the church to be used as an overmantel in the rectory.

Critics are divided on whether, or how much, Kirby aided the young Gainsborough in the perspective rendering of the church and deanery in this unusual wide-angle view. Felicity Owen thinks that Kirby may have painted in the church; Michael Rosenthal suggests it was “probably painted in collaboration with Joshua Kirby” without specifying the exact nature of the collaboration, while John Hayes argues that only “one hand was involved, and that Gainsborough’s”.

Hayes also argues that the figures on around the rectangular tomb are `quoted’ from the third plate of Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness, of 1747.

Another view of the painting and some detailed views are here.

A recent view of the church by Carl Lamb, showing the effects of the 19th century renovations, is here.