22 April 2014

'This untimely Blow': The tragic death of James Charles Pitt

On February 7, 1781, Pitt wrote to his friend and former tutor George Pretyman to inform him of the tragic death of his younger brother James Charles. The lad was only nineteen years old at the time of his death. Grief-stricken after already losing another sibling - his eldest sister Hester, Lady Mahon died in July 1780 - William brought the news to his mother and sister Lady Harriot at their home at Burton Pynsent in Somerset(shire).

Pitt wrote Rev. Mr. Pretyman, who was then at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge:

"I can hardly bring myself to write under the severe Blow which we have lately experienced, to the News of which My dear Pretyman, you are probably not a Stranger. You will I know be anxious to hear something from me. I wish to say as little as possible on the melancholy Subject, too melancholy indeed for words. I have to regret the loss of a Brother, who had every thing that was most amiable and promising, every thing that I could love and admire, and I feel the favorite Hope of my Mind extinguish'd by this untimely Blow. Let me however assure you that I am too much tried in Affliction not to be able to support myself under it, and that my poor Mother and Sister, to whom I brought the sad account yesterday, have not suffer'd in their Health from so severe a Shock. I have prevail'd on them to think of changing the Scene, and moving towards Hayes, which is a great Comfort to me, as the solitude and distance of this Place must now be insupportable. I imagine that we shall begin our Journey in a few days. Adieu. You shall hear from me soon again.
Yrs most sincerely & affectionately,
W Pitt

The unhappy Event took place on the 13th Novr."


William Pitt to Rev. Mr. George Pretyman. Ipswich Record Office, Pretyman MSS. HA 119: 562/659.


  1. Thanks, Steph. Apart from the postscript, that's the letter as printed in Tomline, though he slightly changed the punctuation etc. I just wonder where Stanhope got a date of December from?!

    1. Yeah, I wonder where Stanhope got his information. Perhaps he believed that information travelled quicker from the West Indies than it actually did in the early 1780s?

  2. Ships took six weeks to travel from W Indies to Britain so presumably Stanhope got the date of early November for the date and assumed the information must have arrived at Christmas. To be fair I had assumed the same!