15 December 2013

'His unnumbered kindnesses': William Dacres Adams on Pitt's death

                                                                            William Dacres Adams by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1810

In a very moving letter to his brother in-law Courtenay, William Dacres Adams wrote of his anguish following the death of William Pitt. Adams was Pitt's last private secretary, and he was clearly very close to the Prime Minister. Similar to James Stanhope's account of Pitt's final illness, Adams's reminiscences are equally expressive of the grief experienced by those who knew Pitt intimately in private life. I am repeating Adams' letter to Courtenay of 24th January 1806 (the day after Pitt's passing) in its entirety as it conveys the genuine sentiments of a man who deeply mourned the loss of Pitt:

Downing Street, Friday 24th January 1806

"Dear Courtenay,

I wished to have told you something of the manner of Mr. Pitt's death, but really I was not equal to it yesterday. I can hardly yet bring myself to believe that it is true, though everything in this wretched, melancholy house [Downing Street] but too surely impresses it upon my mind. He [Pitt] received the tidings of the approaching event with that firmness which was natural to him, and passed an hour with the Bishop of Lincoln in prayer, and in such directions about his worldly affairs as he thought necessary. He wished to have committed these to writing, but his strength was not sufficient. He therefore dictated what he had to say to the Bishop, and signed the paper. His solicitude seemed to have procured a provision for the Stanhopes and for the payment of his own debts - both of which, I should suppose, for the credit of Parliament and of the country, would be immediately done.

After his exertion, which was Wednesday morning, I do not find that he knew anything, except at little intervals, in one of which he saw Lady Hester Stanhope, blessed her, and took his last leave of her. All the rest was incoherence. He talked a great deal about his affairs in Germany - asked why they did not fight - said he would despatch a messenger - inquired which way the wind was for him to sail. Sometimes he mentioned Lady Hester - called her a good soul. 'I know she loves me.' Then he would begin to pray - which perhaps was during a momentary return of reason - and then he would fancy himself in the House of Commons and cry 'Hear, hear, hear!' - and once he said, 'I am better - I shall not die yet.'

But I will not proceed farther with this dreadful recital. The delirium, I suppose, proceeded from the excess of fever, for his pulse latterly was too quick to be counted. About an hour before his death he seemed to be in a sleep, from which he never woke again; and they only knew that it was over by his having ceased to breathe. I have hardly begun to contemplate the probable consequences of this most sad calamity, or the private and public evils which it must produce. We shall feel them by-and-by. At present my mind is wholly occupied with a grief that I never felt before, and an anguish that is inexpressible. It is not the loss of his vast talents and unexampled public service which affects me now - though they will be 'embalmed in the recollection of a grateful posterity,' but the remembrance of his unnumbered kindnesses - of that goodness and gentleness of heart and manner, and of that purity of mind which I never saw equalled in man.

To my last hour, the time spent with him at Bath will be a source of infinite gratification to me. I dined with him the very last time he ever sat at table. Those precious, precious days will be fixed in my memory to my life's end.

Yours always affectionately,
W.D. Adams"


Jameson, E. (1945) 10 Downing Street. London: Francis Aldor, pp. 257-8.

The Indian Chiefs who met the Pitt children

In 1766, a group of Indian chiefs from North America came over to England. At Weymouth, they met the children of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778). Below is a snippet from a letter written by Pitt's 10 year old daughter Lady Hester Pitt describing this event:

Lady Hester Pitt to her mother, Weymouth, August 2, 1766

“…The man who brought over the Indian Chiefs came to us on Wednesday night with a message from them to return us many thanks for the kind treatment they had met with. Some of them were gone to Dorchester, and he was going to carry the rest there, and so to London. We found by talking to them [the Indians] that they had Christian names the same as the English. I hear that William’s little horse is dark iron grey, and has a switch tail, they say it is about as handsome as Beauty…If it is fine weather we intend to go to see a compleat Roman Camp about 6 miles from hence.”


The UK National Archives. PRO 30/70/5/330A 

13 December 2013

William Pitt's portrait at Trinity House

In a letter written to William Pitt on May 5, 1796, the artist Gainsborough Dupont asks him to appointment a time for a portrait sitting. The original letter is now located at the UK National Archives. The purpose of the painting was to commemorate Pitt as Master of Trinity House on Tower Hill. Pitt was then just 37 years old, and had been Master for several years. The Trinity House building was newly completed (building work had begun in 1794), and it was now urgent to finish Pitt’s portrait.

Below is the full text of Gainsborough Dupont’s letter to Pitt (PRO 30/70/5 f 365):
Grafton Street Fitzroy Square
5 May 1796 -

“Mr Gainsborough Dupont presents his humble service to Mr Pitt, and hopes he will pardon the liberty he takes in requesting that Mr Pitt will have the goodness to appoint a time for sitting for his portrait that is intended for the New Trinity House. Gainsbro. Dupont has prepared the Face from one of the Pictures Mr Pitt did him the honour of sitting for some time since and has it in such a state of forwardness that if he could be so fortunate as to obtain half an hour for the purpose of touching the Features and sketching the Person it would be sufficient for him to finish the Picture. Gainbro. Dupont would be happy to wait upon Mr Pitt at any time and place he would please to appoint, and from the very anxious desire of the Deputy Master and Elder Brethren that it should be completed and placed up on Trinity Monday with the other Pictures which are nearly finished, G. Dupont is under the necessity of soliciting Mr Pitt to mention an early day.”

Needless to say, Gainsborough Dupont was in a hurry to quickly finish Pitt’s portrait! I wonder when and where the sitting eventually took place? Presumably, it was not long after the date of the letter. Pitt had previously sat to Gainsborough Dupont at Walmer Castle in 1792, so the artist would have been familiar with Pitt’s facial features.

Flash forward to 2013, and Mr. Pitt’s full-length portrait still hangs on the quarterdeck of Trinity House.

12 December 2013

'His life departed like a candle burning out'

I’ve been sitting here crying my eyes out reading Gareth Glover’s superb book "Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo: The Letters and Journals of Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable James Stanhope" (2010). 

What particularly moved me was the tragic account of James Stanhope’s suicide, of which I had no idea of the particulars when I only just visited Kenwood House - the location of his suicide, which was in one of Kenwood’s outbuildings - this past weekend. The excruciating pain he endured after a dreadful injury he sustained whilst fighting during the Napoleonic Wars, accompanied by the unbearable loss of his dearly beloved wife (Lord Mansfield’s daughter) Frederica in childbirth, must have proved more than he could bear. I respect this man more than words can say. 

Another reason the tears have been pouring down my face is because the book contains Stanhope’s account of William Pitt’s death. I originally read the account during a research trip to the Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone, but re-reading it never fails to evoke tears in me. The line “his [Pitt’s] life departed like a candle burning out,” is incredibly poignant, and paralyses any admirer of Pitt with sadness and grief. Stanhope’s account of Pitt’s death is thorough, detailed, and harrowing. For me, it is also the most accurate. Pitt suffered terribly in his final illness. 

A friend asked me the other day where I read about the possibility of Pitt having died of pancreatic disease. It was in a snippet from this book. Here is the particular passage, given in the Notes section at the end of the text [Note 59]:

"It is probable that Pitt was actually suffering from either a duodenal (peptic) ulcer or pancreatic disease and had probably contracted typhoid fever in the later stages. It has been stated that Pitt died of acute liver failure brought on by his heavy drinking. However there is much conjecture over Pitt’s death and current medical thinking is that the most likely cause was a duodenal ulcer which had so narrowed the outlet of Pitt’s stomach that nothing could get through. He would thus have had pain, vomiting and weight loss; this would be caused by stress, alcohol and diet. Since there is no evidence of jaundice, he probably did not die of hepatic (liver) failure or severe chronic liver disease. His liver function may, nonetheless, have been impaired as a result of his drinking. One other possibility exists, that he had acute or chronic relapsing pancreatitis - i.e. inflammation of the pancreas, as a consequence of his alcohol excess." 

I think this account blows Gornall’s 1957 article on William Pitt’s health and final illness out of the water as (I’d like to think, anyway!) medical opinion has advanced considerably since the mid-1950s.
If you’re interested in the Napoleonic Wars, William Pitt the younger, the Stanhope family of Chevening, or indeed the Duke of Wellington, I highly recommend Gareth Glover’s book on James Hamilton Stanhope!


Glover, G. (ed.) (2010) Eyewitness to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo: The Letters and Journals of Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable James Stanhope. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military.

The 2nd Lord Chatham's final home: 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square

I consider myself to be what I call an "on-the-ground" amateur social historian, and part of this involves physically getting out to places of historical relevance or significance. Therefore, on a recent trip to London I was looking specifically for John Pitt's (2nd Earl of Chatham) last home. His country seat was in Gedding, Kent, however his obituaries all state that he died at Charles Street. John Pitt was William Pitt the younger's older brother, and he outlived him by over 29 years.

The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 158 (1835) reported that John Pitt died on September 24, 1835 at his London town residence on 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square. He was 79 years old, and by far the last surviving member of his immediate family. The earldom of Chatham was made extinct upon his death as he had no children. John's wife had preceded him in death by 14 years. 

Miraculously, the Blitz of 1940-1 did not destroy the 2nd Earl of Chatham's former residence - although many of the surrounding houses were flattened - and thus it survives to the present day. 

Below are several photos I took of the exterior of 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square:

More than likely, the property has been altered significantly on the interior to what it must have appeared in John's day, however the exterior remains a quintessential Georgian townhouse. As the numbering of London buildings tend to change quite dramatically over the centuries, I felt it was vital to double-check my facts to ensure that the modern-day 10 Charles Street was also the same address in 1835. To do so, I have a digital copy of Horwood's 1799 London map to verify my conclusions. Sure enough, it was also 10 Charles Street in 1799, therefore we can be almost certain that it was the same number 36 years later. Below is a screenshot of Charles Street, showing number 10 in the same position as it is in the present day:

Therefore, it can safely be assumed that what we're looking at today was the very same residence where John Pitt, the 2nd Earl Chatham, took his last breath on the morning of September 24, 1835. 

'A stock made of leather'

A curious anecdote was published in Joe Miller's A New Edition of the Old Joe Miller, or, Universal Jester (1810) regarding a change made to the military dress uniforms of the Volunteer Corps in approximately 1802-4 (my estimation). Pitt died in January 1806. Although this dubious incident was reported several years after Pitt's death, William Pitt was Colonel and Lord Warden of the Cinque Port Volunteers at the time of this alleged occurrence:

"Previous to the inspection of the Dover Volunteer Corps by the Lord Warden, on Monday evening, an order was issued for the men to wear black stocks made of leather, as is usual with troops of the line. Several of the corps objected to this order, alleging, that not being accustomed to such a stiff bandage round their necks, they hoped to be permitted to wear their silk ones as before. Mr. Pitt observed, when the corps assembled, he had never been accustomed to wear a stock made of leather, but he now submitted to that part of the military dress, from which he did not experience the least inconvenience. "That may be, Sir, (replied an honest blacksmith, who was in the ranks) for your neck is, like your head, so very long, that the leather can do you no injury" (Miller, p. 59). Needless to say, I'm highly critical of the authenticity of this account, and it's a rather impertinent remark on the part of the "honest blacksmith." I'm no expert on military attire during the Napoleonic Wars, either. I'm relating this here as it's an obscure Pitt anecdote which I have never seen elsewhere.


Miller, J. (1810) A New Edition of the Old Joe Miller, or, Universal Jester. London: T. Hughes, p. 59.

9 December 2013

Pitt's political inheritance

Six men who had been, or were to become, British Prime Ministers attended William Pitt the younger's funeral in late February 1806: Lord Sidmouth, Lord Grenville, Lord Liverpool, Spencer Perceval, George Canning, and the Duke of Wellington.

Chateaubriand on Pitt: He was 'something above the ordinary line'

Before I commence with Chateaubriand's account of William Pitt, I'd like to make it crystal clear that I'm no admirer of Mr. Chateaubriand. It should also be known that Chateaubriand was never on intimate terms with Pitt, and in actual fact, he barely knew him.

Nevertheless, Pitt held such a significant and powerful position in the landscape of late 18th and early 19th century British politics that we are left with numerous observations of him by his contemporaries. Suffice it to say that not all of these anecdotes and descriptions are necessarily endearing.

Below is an extract of Chateaubriand's assessment of Pitt:

"Pitt, tall and slender, had an air at once melancholy and sarcastic. His delivery was cold, his intonation monotonous, his action scarcely perceptible. At the same time, the lucidness and the fluency of his thoughts, the logic of his arguments, suddenly irradiated with flashes of eloquence, rendered his talent something above the ordinary line."

What is most striking is that although Chateaubriand wasn't overly fond of Pitt by any stretch of the imagination, he still managed to pay him a huge compliment in admitting that his eloquence and oratorical powers were beyond the norm.


Chateaubriand, in Prescott, W. H. (1864) Biographical and Critical Miscellanies. Philadelphia, USA: J.B. Lippincott & Co., p. 289.

4 December 2013

Jane Williams's burial record

Jane (neè Pryce) was Elizabeth and Louisa Jane Williams' mother. Today I decided to research her burial record on the Westminster Archives via findmypast.co.uk in order to follow-up a source. Sure enough, here's what I learned:

Jane Williams was buried at St Margaret's church, Westminster on 27 February 1797. Unfortunately, the source does not mention her age when she died.

St Margaret's church cemetery is no longer in use; in fact, all trace of its former external use as a burial ground has been erased, so it is now impossible to ascertain exactly where Jane Williams's final resting place is located.

I do wonder how intimate the Williams family were to William Pitt the younger. This certainly needs to be explored further.

2 December 2013

Thoughts on Elizabeth Williams

What follows is the product of thoughts which have been passing through my head. Without anything more than the written evidence of Pitt paying for Elizabeth, and her younger sister Louisa Jane's, education, clothing, and boarding for at least the period of 1797 to 1801 (and in Elizabeth's case - until Pitt's death in 1806), this must be viewed as historical speculation.

If William was Elizabeth's father (she was born on August 3, 1785), then she would have been conceived in the autumn of 1784. Pitt had been Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury in those days) for a year by the time she was conceived. Elizabeth's mother was Jane Pryce Williams - a married woman. Her acknowledged father was Edward Williams.

Under English law at the end of the 18th century, children were considered to be the property of the mother's husband, and whether the husband was the father or not, the children would definitely have shared the husband's surname. Thus, any illegitimate child borne to a married woman could easily be passed off as her husband's, and Pitt would have been absolved of any responsibility for the child - and Jane protected from the stigma of bearing a bastard. Pitt would have had good reason to be relieved that his paternity of Elizabeth did not have to be acknowledged; he could preserve his carefully cultivated image of being a virtuous minister.

Jane died in early 1797, and quite ironically, it is from this exact period which Pitt took both of her daughters into his house and began paying for every aspect of their upkeep and education. He was a generous man, but there is absolutely no written record still in existence of him extending this same provision to any other children.

More later...