Edward Walford.

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times, however, when the fit took him, he would
deck up this banqueting room like a booth at a
fair, and entertain some of the skilled poachers
of the neighbourhood, from whom, though Ranger
by the King's appointment, he did not object to
receive stray gifts in kind, or hints of a practical
nature. And, hermit as he was, he was so far
from hating games and diversions, that he would
entertain his rough and plebeian guests with
cards and dice, giving each of them one glass of
" mum " or beer, and no more.

In the evening, by way of supper, we are told
that he would take a single glass of sack, seasoned


with the syrup of gillyflowers, which he stirred
with a sprig of rosemary. The troubles of the
times never touched or disturbed him ; safe in
the glades of his Hampshire forest, he had
forgotten the King, and the Court had forgotten
him. A short time before his death he rode on
horseback, and went a day's journey in order to
hear an old huntsman, who was himself turned
ninety, relate the death of a stag that was said
to be older than either of the pair. If so, the
united ages of huntsman, stag, and Hastings
must have been as near as possible three hundred
years. There is a portrait of this Henry Hastings
at St. Giles's House, near Wimborne, Dorsetshire,
the seat of Lord Shaftesbury, and an engraving
from the portrait will be found in the second
volume of Hutchins' "History of Dorset."
Tradition still records the fact, that, in spite of
his lonely life and patched dress, he showed in
his manners the breeding of a regular gentleman,
except in the one matter of swearing. Altogether
Henry Hastings must be pronounced to have
been an original, such a man as you would not
be likely to meet twice in a lifetime. Lord
Shaftesbury describes him as having been " low
of stature, very strong and very active, with
reddish flaxen hair." He tells us that "his
clothes were always made of green cloth,"


possibly in allusion to the fabled connection of
his ancestor with Robin Hood and Little John,
with Sherwood Forest and suits of "Lincoln
green;" and he adds with a spice of sly
satire, which he seems thoroughly to enjoy,
that "all of the latter, even when new, were
never worth five pounds."

Had Mr. Hastings married and had sons, it is
more than probable that the present century
would never have heard of the celebrated peerage
case which gave the earldom of Huntingdon to
the grandfather of the present head of the



THE sad story of the wasted life and tragical
end of Thomas, second Lord Camelford, is
one which cannot fail to awaken interest in
readers of every rank, as an instance of a man who,
though largely gifted with good natural qualities,
and placed in a situation of life where, with good
sense and right principles to gnide him, he might
have attained a high position in the State, chose
to sacrifice all his prospects to the waywardness
of his disposition, and fell a martyr to his own

Lord Camelford was the great-grandson of
Robert Pitt, the famous governor of Madras, who
acquired a large fortune in India the best part of
two centuries ago by the advantageous purchase
of a certain diamond, which he brought back
with him to England, and eventually sold at a


great profit to the Duke of Orleans, at that time
Regent of France. His lordship not only held a
seat in the House of Peers, but he was extensively
connected with some of the first families in the
kingdom. His grandfather's brother was the
"great commoner," William Pitt, and after-
wards first Earl of Chatham. His father was
consequently first cousin to William Pitt the
younger and to the second Earl of Chatham ; and
his own sister, Anne Pitt, was the wife of Lord
Grenville, who, a few years after the date of
which 1 write, became first Lord of the Treasury
and head of the Ministry of "all the talents."
The father, Thomas Pitt, the first Lord Camelford
(so created in 1784) owned the fine family estate
of Boconnoc, in Cornwall, which devolved upon
his son, together with the coronet, while he was
still in his minority.

Born in 1775, he received the first rudiments
of his education under a tutor in the Canton of
Berne, in Switzerland, where even as a child he
showed a spirit and temper which, though manly
and vigorous, was peculiarly moody, wayward,
and untractable. He did not bear the character
of a manageable boy at the Charterhouse, (then
under Dr. Berdmore), to which he was removed
when about ten or twelve years old, and where he
did not stay long, having shown an early taste


for the roving and adventurous life of a sailor.
It was not a difficult matter for a cousin of the
premier to obtain a commission in the Royal
Navy, and accordingly in 1789 we find him join-
ing, as a midshipman, the frigate " Guardian "
commanded by the gallant Capt. Riou, and laden
with stores for the then infant colony of convicts
which was settled at Botany Bay. The calamity
which befell that ship was well calculated to inure
the young seaman to the perils of the sea ; and
even at that time he showed the same contempt
for danger which marked his career throughout,
and which often partook rather of the nature of
recklessness than of bravery. I need only say
here that when all endeavours to save the
" Guardian" seemed hopeless, and her commander
gave leave to such of her crew as chose to take to
the boats, young Pitt was one of those who to
the number of ninety resolved to stand by the
ship and to share her fate with her gallant com-
mander. In the end, after an escape little short of
miraculous, the ship made the Cape of Good Hope,
in the condition of a wreck, and in September,
1790, the survivors found their way to England.
Undaunted by the dangers which he had en-
countered in the " Guardian," young Pitt on reach-
ing London went straight to the Admiralty, and
bringing such family influence as he could to


bear upon " My Lords," obtained an appointment
to join an exploring voyage which was fitting
out under Capt. Vancouver. He accompanied
that officer in the ship " Discovery " during part of
his distant voyage ; but through his refractoriness
and disobedience of orders, the result of his
wayward and obstinate temper, he provoked
his commanding officer to treat him with a
severity which he would not endure.

Accordingly, quitting the " Discovery" in the
Indian seas, he joined the " Resistance," com-
manded by Sir E. Pakenham, and soon gained the
rank of lieutenant. It was while serving on board
this ship that he heard the news of his father's
death, and of his accession to the honours of
the peerage. On returning home in 1796, the
finst thing he did was to send a challenge to his
late commanding officer, Captain Vancouver,
which that gentleman, on professional grounds,
was obliged to decline. The wound, however,
rankled deep in the breast of Lord Camelford,
who threatened to chastise his superior officer.
Doubtless, had he been a plain, untitled lieut-
enant Brown, Jones, or Robinson he would
have been cashiered for disrespect ; but then he
was a Pitt, and cousin to the First Lord of the
Treasury, so what could poor Captain Vancouver
do I He did the only thing possible, namely,


to sit down and digest his wrath ; and the end
was that he died of grief and pain, instead of a

Having attained the rank of commander, when
he had yet to learn how to command himself,
though he had reached the " age of discretion,"
Lord Camelford was appointed next to the sloop
"Favourite," on the West Indian station. We
next hear of him at Antigua, where, on Jan. 13,
1798, the "Favourite" and the " Perdrix"
(Captain Fahie) were lying at anchor in harbour.
Captain Fahie, it so happened, was absent at St.
Kitts, and had left his lieutenant, Mr. Peterson,
in charge of the " Perdrix." Lord Camelford,
whether in the discharge of his duty or in mere
wantonness, as being the senior officer, and
consequently in command, issued some trifling
order which the lieutenant did not feel bound to
obey. Lord Camelford must have been a
summary disciplinarian, for he called out his
marines, and, asking Peterson if he meant to
obey his order, and obtaining no answer or a
refusal, he shot him dead on the spot. Lieutenant
Peterson was much beloved in Antigua ; and the
excited populace were hardly restrained from
dealing summary and probably fatal chastisement
on his lordship ; but they were calmed by an
assurance that an inquiry into the matter should


be made by court-martial. But the coroner's
jury having brought in a verdict to the effect
that Peterson had " lost his life in a mutiny," and
the court-martial having " honourably" acquitted
his lordship, the Admiralty at home let the affair
pass into oblivion. Again it was not a Brown,
Jones, or Robinson, but a Pitt who had shot the
lieutenant ; and the Pitts were a " heaven-born"
race. Some say, I know, that " sin is not sin
in a duchess," and possibly the saying may be
true ; probably it is equally true that " killing is
(or was) no murder" when wrought by the hand
of a peer of the realm. I doubt if the same law
would hold good now, as that which appears to
have prevailed some four score years back in the
history of the British navy.

After his acquittal, Lord Camelford resumed
for a time the command of his ship, but soon
threw it up, at the same time quitting the
profession in which he had earned such a
character for daring and for discipline. " While
in the service, " says a writer of the time," his
personal appearance was distinguished by the
same eccentricity which marked his conduct
through life. His dress consisted of a lieutenant's
plain coat, without shoulder knots, and its
buttons were as green with verdigris as the ship's
bottom itself. His head was shaved close, and


he wore an enormous gold-laced cocked hat." It
deserves to be remembered to his credit, that,
though he was so severe a disciplinarian, he
showed himself particularly attentive to the
comfort and relief of the sick.

He had not long returned to London when he
took it into his head to plan a mad freak, which if
he had been allowed to put it into execution,
would probably have cost him his life, and have
added seriously to the complications of the war
with France, which just then was at its fiercest.
His plan was to repair to Paris, and there, in the
midst of that city, to attack personally and kill
the rulers of the Republic. With this object in
view, he took coach to Dover, where he arranged
with a boatman to convey him across the Channel
for twelve guineas, though the law at that time
was so stringent as to make the very act of
embarkation for France a capital offence. The
compact, however, was betrayed to a local
collector of the revenue, who accompanied his
lordship to the boat, and arrested him in the act
of stepping into it. The triumphant " collector"
lost no time in carrying his lordship back to
London in a post-chaise, under a strong guard,
and conveying him to the office of the Duke of
Portland, at Whitehall. A meeting of the Privy
Council was summoned, and I read in the account


which I have already quoted, that " after several
examinations his lordship was discharged from
custody, the Lords of the Council being satisfied
that, however irregular his conduct, his intentions
were only such as he had represented them
to be, and that he had no other object in
view except that of rendering a service to
the country. His Majesty's pardon, therefore,
was issued under the Great Seal of the Kingdom,
discharging his lordship from all the penalties
which he had incurred under an Act recently
passed, which, without reference to motive,
made the mere act of embarking for France a
capital crime."

This was in January, 1799 ; and at least two
months appear to have elapsed before Lord Camel-
ford's name was again brought in any marked
manner before the public, though he continued to
live on in London, indulging by day and night
too in a series of practical and sometimes offen-
sive jokes, such as those for which the late Lord
Waterford in our own day made himself so noto-
rious. At one time I find him causing a riot at
the box office of Drury Lane (April 2, 1799), and
insulting and assaulting one of the audience a
freak for which his lordship was tried before
Lord Kenyon and a special jury, and sentenced
to pay a fine of 500, though he had for his


counsel that consummate advocate, Mr. Thomas
Erskine, afterwards Lord Chancellor Erskine.
On another occasion, when he and his boon
companion, Captain Barrie, were returning home
late at night, or rather early in the morning
as they passed through Cavendish Square, they
found the " Charleys " asleep. Of course it did
not take a minute to wake them up which was
all very right and to thrash them which was
all very wrong. At last the " Charleys " sprang
their rattles, and other more vigilant guardians of
the West End streets rushed up ; but it was not
till they were overpowered by ten to two that
Lord Camelford and his comrade were led off
to the station-house. Next morning, as a matter
of course, they were brought up to the Marl-
borough Street office, where a present of a guinea
a-piece to the injured "Charleys" enabled the
sitting magistrate to declare the offenders dis-
charged, with a warning not to repeat such con-

There was nothing in which Lord Camelford
took greater delight than in standing out in
direct contrast to the general public, and finding
himself in a minority of one. Had he frequented
the House of Lords, he would, no doubt, have
often been able to gratify this whim: but his
tastes led him to associate not with his " peers,"


in either sense of the term, but with the " ignobile
vulgus " of the London streets. For instance,
though he had wished to go to Paris in order to
end the war by a single blow, yet in 1801, when
all London was lit up by a general illumination,
no persuasion of his friends or of his landlord
could induce Lord Camelford to suffer lights to
be placed in the windows of his rooms. He
lodged over a grocer's shop in New Bond Street ;
and in vain did the grocer and his wife protest ;
he remained firm to his silly and wayward re-
solve. The mob, of course, attacked the house
and saluted his windows with showers of stones.
Irritated at the assault, Lord Camelford rushed
out among the crowd with a pistol in his hand,
and it seemed as if the festive day was doomed to
be marked with blood. At last, however, his
friend Barrie induced him to exchange the pistol
for a stout cudgel, with which he laid about him
right and left, until at length, overpowered by
numbers, he was rolled over and over in the
gutter, and was glad at last to beat a retreat in-
doors, filthy and crest-fallen.

In general, Lord Camelford was not one of
that amiable class of young men who return to
their nests at the end of the business of the day
and " dine at home " quietly and respectably.
On the contrary, he lived chiefly at clubs and


coffee houses, where his presence had at least one
advantage, namely, that of holding in check the
insolence of the young puppies who haunted such
rendezvous and gave themselves airs and graces.
Indeed, whoever was brought into contact with
his lordship in those days when pistols were
often carried, and duelling was in vogue, was
speedily made to feel that he had better be care-
ful as to what passed his lips, lest in an un-
guarded moment he should have to expiate with
his blood the slightest slip of the tongue.

His irritable disposition and obstinate temper
not only led him to quarrels and encounters
beyond all number, but in the end paved the
way for the final catastrophe of his tragical
death. It appears that for some time Lord
Camelford had been acquainted with a certain
lady named Simmons. Some officious person,
either from a silly habit of talking, or out of sheer
malice, represented to the touchy nobleman that
a friend of his named Best had said to the lady
something to his disadvantage. This ill-timed
piece of information nettled his lordship, and
rankled in his breast so much that on the 6th of
March, 1804, on meeting Mr. Best at the Prince
of Wales's Coffee-house, he went up to him and
said aloud, and in a tone to be heard by the by-
standers, " I find, Sir, that you have been speaking



of me in the most unwarrantable terms." Mr.
Best simply replied that he was quite unconscious
of having done anything to deserve such a charge.
Lord Camelford declared that he well knew what
he had said to Mrs. Simmons, and called him a
" liar, a scoundrel, and ruffian."

The use of epithets such as these, according to
the established code of laws then current in
society, left but one course open to Mr. Best, and
a hostile meeting was at once arranged for the
following morning, Each of the parties having
appointed his " second," it was left, as usual, to
the latter to fix the time and place. These were
seven o'clock in the morning, and the fields be-
hind Holland House at Kensington.

Meantime every means was being put in motion
to supersede the necessity of a duel, or to prevent
its occurrence, or at all events to stop it before a
fatal result should ensue; and I regret to add
that it seems to have been wholly Lord Camel-
ford's fault that these efforts proved unavailing.
Later in the evening, Mr. Best, though he had
been so grossly and wantonly insulted, sent to
his lordship a strong assurance that the informa-
tion which he had received was quite groundless,
and that, as he had acted under a false impres-
sion, he should be quite satisfied if his lordship
would withdraw the strong epithets which he had


applied to him. But Lord Camclford refused to
accept this kindly and sensible offer. Mr. Best
then left the coffee house, and some mutual
friends or witnesses among the bystanders lodged
an information at Marlborough Street.

Notwithstanding the magistrates were thus
early let into the secret, it appears that no steps
were taken to prevent the hostile encounter until
nearly two o'clock in the morning, by which time
his lordship, who had gained a fair stock of expe-
rience in " matters of honour " by this time, had
of course taken good care to be " off," having
ordered a bed at a tavern near Oxford Street.

During the night he made his will, bequeathing
his estates to his sister, Lady Grenville. In this
he inserted a clause in which, to do him justice,
he wholly acquits his antagonist of blame in the
affair, expressly declares that the quarrel was of
his own seeking, and desires that in the event of
his own death, and the law being put into force
against Mr. Best, the King may be petitioned
and requested in his (Lord C.'s) name to extend
to him the royal pardon.

Early on the following morning, at the coffee-
house in Oxford Street, Mr. Best made another
effort to prevail on his lordship to retract the
expressions which he had used. "Camelford,"
said he, " we have been friends, and I know the

Q 2


generosity and the unsuspiciousness of your na-
ture. Upon my honour you have been imposed
upon by Mrs. Simmons ; do not insist on using
expressions which in the end must cause the
death of either you or me." To this Lord Camel-
ford merely replied dryly, " Best, all this is mere
child's play ; the matter must go on."

Unable to come to terms at the coffee house in
Oxford Street, the two principals mounted their
horses, and rode along the Uxbridge Road, past
the wall which then bounded Kensington Gar-
dens, as far as the " Horse and Groom," a little
beyond Notting Hill turnpike-gate. At the "Horse
and Groom" they dismount, cross the road, and
proceed at a quick pace along the path leading to
the fields behind Holland House. The seconds
measure the ground, and Lord Camelford and Mr.
Best take up their positions at thirty paces. The
sun has lately risen, and one or two of the out-
door servants of Holland House are about the
grounds; but while they wonder and stare the
signal is given, and Lord Camelford fires. Either
designedly or not, he fires without effect, and Mr.
Best is a living man. A quarter of a minute
elapses, the signal is repeated, and Lord Camel-
ford falls forward on the ground. He is not dead,
but he is mortally wouuded : and oh, irony of
ironies! he declares that he "is satisfied." He


shakes hands with his antagonist, who runs to
pick him up : " Best, I am a dead man, and you
have killed me ; but I freely forgive you the
fault was mine."

It was now time for Mr. Best to beat a retreat,
and one of Lord Holland's gardeners was de-
spatched for a surgeon. A chair was soon pro-
cured ; and seated in it, and supported by the by-
standers, Lord Camelford was carried off to Little
Holland House, the residence of Mr. Otty, where
he was attended by two surgeons, Mr. Thompson
and Mr. Knight, of Kensington. In an hour more
his faithful friend Captain Barrie was beside his
bed, and so was his cousin, the Rev. Mr. Cock-

From the first the surgeons gave little or no
hope that the wound would prove anything other
than mortal. The ball could not be extracted,
and he lingered in great agony for nearly three
days, when death put an end to his sufferings.
So died Thomas Lord Camelford, at the early age
of twenty-nine, by a death which, though not ac-
tually self-inflicted, was brought on by his own
wayward obstinacy.

The estimate formed by Mr. Cockburn as to
Lord Camelford's real character, and his testimony
to the sincerity of the penitence of his deathbed,
are alike striking. He writes :


" Lord Camelford was a man whose real cha-
racter was but little known to the world ; his
imperfections and his follies were often brought
before the public, but the counterbalancing vir-
tues he manifested were but little heard of.
Though violent to those whom he imagined to
have wronged him, yet to his acquaintances he
was mild, affable, and courteous : a stern adver-
sary, but the kindest and most generous of friends.
Slow and cautious in determining upon any im-
portant step while deliberating, he was most at-
tentive to the advice of others, and easily brought
over to their opinion ; when, however, his resolu-
tions were once taken, it was almost impossible to
turn him from his purpose. That warmth of dis-
position which prompted him so unhappily to
great improprieties, prompted him also to the
most lively efforts of active benevolence. From
the many prisons in the metropolis, from the
various receptacles of human misery, he received
numberless petitions, and no petition ever came
in vain. He was often the dupe of the designing
and crafty supplicant, but he was more often the
reliever of real sorrow, and the soother of un-
merited woe. Constantly would he make use of
that influence which rank and fortune gave him
with the Government, to interfere in the behalf of
those malefactors whose crimes had subjected


them to punishment, but in whose cases ap-
peared circumstances of alleviation. He was pas-
sionately fond of science, and though his mind
while a young seaman had been little cultivated,
yet in later years he had acquired a prodigious
fund of information upon almost every subject
connected with literature. In early life he had
gloried much in puzzling the chaplains of ships
in which he served, and to enable him to gain
such triumphs he had read all the sceptical books
he could procure ; and thus his mind became in-
voluntarily tainted with infidelity. As his judg-
ment grew more matured, he discovered of himself
the fallacy of his own reasonings, he became con-
vinced of the importance of religion, and Christ-
ianity was the constant subject of his reflections,
his reading and conversation. ... I wish with
all my soul that the unthinking votaries of dissi-
pation and infidelity could have been present at
the deathbed of this poor man ; could have heard
his expressions of contrition after misconduct,
and of his reliance on the mercy of his Creator :

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Online LibraryEdward WalfordTales of our great families. 2d series (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 16)