A few little wagers


Gambling was a popular activity in the eighteenth century, and some of the sums involved are staggering. I recently came across an example of someone using it almost as a means of making money, since the outcome was much more in his own hands than on the card tables or at the races.

David Howell of Lanlawren, Cornwall (1751-1804), was the son of the Revd. Joshua Howell, Rector of Lanreath, who had become wealthy through marriage to an heiress, Dunnett Haweis. A commission was purchased for David in the 16th Light Dragoons and he attained the rank of captain.

A tiny account book in the Howell family papers records the following:

At Sir John Morehead’s at Trenant Park in the month of August 1784 I laid a wager with Francis Glanvill of fifty guineas that he Francis Glanvill was married before me. D Howell

<Inserted between lines ‘Rec. the above 50 guineas’>

Likewise at the same time & place I laid another wager of fifty guineas with Francis Glanvill that William Symons of Hat. was married before me D. Howell

I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Lieut. Smollett of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut. Smollett was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784

I laid a wager with Humphrey Bellamy Esq of fifty guineas that he Humphrey Bellamy Esq was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784

<crossed through with note ‘Bellamy is married but has not paid’>

I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Cornet Lee of the 16th Light Dragoons was married before me D. Howell. Cornet Pennyman goes ten guineas of Lee’s wager. Norwich 1786

I laid a wager of twenty guineas with Lieut Archer of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut Archer was married before me D. Howell Norwich 1786

<note added ‘Archer is married but has not paid & has paid the above’>

I laid a wager with Harry Harcourt of the Grenr Guards of fifty guineas that he Harry Harcourt was married before me D. Howell

Fifty guineas in the 1780s would be worth over £3000 today, the equivalent of over 300 days of a craftsman’s wages – or four horses, more to the taste of a cavalryman. These particular wagers must have ended soon after the last one, though, because he curtailed his winnings by marrying one Elizabeth Parsons of Cornwall, some time before 1787 when his daughter Elizabeth was born, followed by a son, David, in 1796; the elder Elizabeth died in 1798.

David Howell’s death notice in the Universal Magazine of 1805 says that he was

for some years actively employed in that situation [as captain], in America, during the war upon that continent. He was afterwards returned M.P. for the borough of St. Michael, in this county [Cornwall]; but finding his attendance in the house incompatible with his regimental duty, he retired from the army. He was a sensible man, a cheerful companion, and a benevolent patron of the poor and necessitous.

Although obviously not such a benevolent patron of his hapless friends!

Extract on wagers from HL/213/2, Cornwall Record Office. Image of George III guinea from Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.comCurrency and buying power conversions from http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/


Of the vagaries and eccentricities of women



Recipes are often found in printed appointment diaries, such as a copy of The Complete Pocket-Book, or Gentleman’s and Tradesman’s Daily Journal, for the Year of Our Lord 1796 belonging to an unidentified person, who can be surmised from the content to be a man. In addition to copying out various poems, sayings and even figures for the national debt, he records some stories that caught his interest.

For example, in the pages for January 1796 he notes:

Feminine Dress. As through the winter the Ladies have gone on progressively “baring their beauteous forms to every gale”, we may expect (we will not say hope) that by the return of summer they will be enabled to go naked.

In August this miraculous little tale caught his eye:

Died at Crookham, near Cork, Patrick Grady & Eleanor his wife. They were born in the same house, on the same day, were married in the same house they were born in, where they fell sick on the same day, & died on the same day, after having lived 96 years. Their bodies were escorted to the grave by 96 of their children, grand & great grand children.

He was fascinated by elopements, recording in October:

Of all the vagaries & eccentricities of woman, the most extraordinary instance appears in the Hampshire Chronicle, that of a Lady who has absconded from her husband, with a fiddler without a nose.

And a longer story a month later:

On Monday last Miss S*****, 2d Daughter of Mr S, a Member of the present House of Commons, eloped from her Father’s house in Marybone, with Lieut R of the Royal Navy. As the Lady under the Will of her Grandmother, is entitled to an immense fortune, a pursuit was next morning begun, not by Land to Gretna Green, for the Son of Neptune, on this occasion preferred his own element to all others, & hoisting the mainsail of a large Pleasure boat, which he hired for the purpose, was wafted down the Thames, the East Way, as far as Gravesend. There he was obliged to wait for the tide, & here just as the tide had half flooded he was overtaken by the Lady’s brother & some more friends, who by the treachery of her maid (who refused to trust her sweet person to the water) discovered the nautical track the Lieutenant took. Our hero recd them, four in number, politely on board, & having his bark well manned, he weighed anchor, standing for a little Island called Old Haven, between Gravesend & the Nose, where he put the four Gentlemen on shore, and wishing them a good day pursued his Voyage with a favourable wind. From Old Haven the Gentlemen did not get away until the Wednesday following, when they were put on board a collier & arrived in London on Friday about 12 O’Clock. The Lieutenant, we suppose, by this time is happy in a bride, as no doubt he put into some port where licences are not tenaciously adhered to. Perhaps he got to Scotland.

And finally in this miscellany, an epitaph in Cirencester churchyard:

Our bodies are like shoes, which off we cast,

Physic their Cobler is – and Death their Last!


Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGarnier_toilette.jpg

Quotations from D/EHX/F86, Hertfordshire Archives.

Here comes the sun


To celebrate the brief appearance of the sun, these short verses were found on a tiny piece of paper in an anonymous eighteenth-century recipe book:

Written upon a sun dial

Thus steals the silent hours away

The sun thus hastens to the sea

And men to mingle with their clay

Thus light and shade divide the year

Thus, till the last great day appear

And shut the starry theatre

Dr Watts

July 21st 1798

Another for a sun dial

Shining spot, but ever sliding

Brightest hours have no abiding

Use the golden minutes well

Life is wasting

Death is hasting

Death consign to heaven or hell

The date of 1798 must be the day they were written out, as the author, Dr Isaac Watts, died in 1748. Their rather melancholy, memento mori character betray his occupation as a Nonconformist theologian and hymnist.

Checking these out in The Poems of Isaac Watts, I discovered that the first is actually a loose rendering of a Latin inscription, which was written on the sundial in a circle:

Sic petit oceanum Phoebus, sic vita sepulchrum,

Dum sensim tacita volvitur hora rota;

Secula sic fugient; sic lux, sic umbra, theatrum,

Donec stelligerum clauserit una dies.

The second was destined for a ‘spot-dial’ or ceiling dial, where a mirror is placed near a window to reflect the sun onto a point on the ceiling, which obviously moves throughout the day. Watts wrote a more positive-sounding inscription for another spot-dial ‘made at a western window at Theobalds’:

Little Sun upon the ceiling,

Ever moving, ever stealing

Moments, minutes, hours away;

May no shade forbid thy shining,

While the heavenly Sun declining

Calls us to improve the day.

Watts seems to have been quite a prolific producer of inscriptions and epigraphs of all kinds, for portraits, effigies and tombstones; who knows, some of these may have been part of a business venture. My favourite is this translation of an inscription on a small French painting called ‘Phyllis playing with a parrot’:

If women will not be inclined

To seek the improvements of the mind,

Believe me, Phyllis, for ’tis true,

Parrots will talk as well as you.

Sundial image from Ford Place, South Ockendon; Colin Vosper, via Wikimedia Commons. Manuscript verses from 613/219, Suffolk Record Office. Information on Isaac Watts from http://www.poemhunter.com/isaac-watts/biography/. Further poems from The British Poets, Vol. XLVI, Chiswick, 1822.