22 February 2014

The great cull: The fate of Pitt's papers after his death

George Pretyman-Tomline, the Bishop of Lincoln (unknown artist)

Immediately after Pitt's death on January 23, 1806, there was a scramble to gather up all of his scattered papers. For one of Pitt's executors, George Pretyman-Tomline (the Bishop of Lincoln), this perhaps signified his desire for a great paper cull. Tomline spent an inordinate amount of time in the weeks and months after Pitt's death scouring through Pitt's books and correspondence. Was he trying to destroy some of that material in order to cover something up? Although this is speculation, the absolute urgency of Tomline's endeavours to wade through the mass of material left behind at Downing Street, Putney, and Walmer Castle suggests a certain degree of suspicion and culpability.

In his pursuit to look over the papers, the Bishop of Lincoln regularly wrote to Pitt's last private secretary William Dacres Adams in order to enlist his help. Based upon the surviving correspondence, William Dacres Adams doesn't appear to have been overly compliant in this effort.

The Bishop of Lincoln wrote to Dacres Adams from his residence at Buckden Palace on February 8th, 1806, stating that he wanted to meet with Adams "in Downing Street on Thursday morning at half past twelve," and then desired to meet with him again the following morning so that they "may look over the Papers you [Adams] brought from Walmer.” [f.28] Dacres Adams had beat the Bishop, as it were, to Walmer Castle in Kent, before he could retrieve the papers. The Bishop doesn't record his thoughts on that, but he was probably too busy at the time sifting through the mass of documents at Downing Street. In either case, it appears from the correspondence that Adams did not readily acquiesce. 

The Bishop of Lincoln wrote again to Dacres Adams, as it doesn’t appear that they met before, at the very end of February 1806, to tell him that “I should be very glad if you could meet me in Downing Street exactly at Ten to-morrow morning as it will not be convenient to Lord Grenville [oe]. The books [Pitt's] should be put into the front room.” [f. 31] It is impossible to pinpoint from this exactly which day Lincoln saw Dacres Adams, but he wrote to him again from Buckden Palace on March 17, 1806, requesting Adams to meet him at the Deanery of St. Paul's on the 25th of March at half past 2, “and that day we will examine the boxes.” [f. 36] Books and papers were still being removed from Pitt's residences, and one of Pitt's former servants, a man named Griffiths, apparently went down to Walmer upon Lincoln's request in order to "remove the Books to Town [London] with as little delay as possible.” [f. 36] Lincoln ended the letter to Adams by repeating that if he heard nothing back from Adams, he still expected him at the Deanery at half past two on Tuesday the 25th. The repetition and urgency of the letter suggests that Bishop Tomline was anxious to sort through Pitt's items. It is assumed that Tomline met with William Dacres Adams several times throughout the early part of 1806, but it cannot be ascertained as to Adams's direct level of involvement and compliance with Tomline's wishes regarding the fate of Pitt's papers.

The last surviving letter in the chain was sent from the Adelphi on April 5th [1806].  In it, Lincoln requested Adams to meet him in Downing Street again at twelve o’clock on the following Monday. [f. 37] It certainly appears that Lincoln was still spending a significant amount of time at Downing Street as he referred to a previous visit there that took place earlier that day. There the correspondence between the Bishop of Lincoln and William Dacres Adams comes to a close. Perhaps the papers were sifted through after April 1806, and there was no further need for them to meet?


BL Add Ms 89036/1/17, ff. 28, 31, 36-37 (January - April 1806)

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