Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The 1st Earl of Egmont

John Perceval, 1st Earl of Egmont, died 270 years ago today. He is remembered today for being instrumental in the early development of Georgia, North America, which was given a charter by, and named after, George II, and because of his grandson, Spencer Perceval, who became a UK prime minister (and is the only one ever to have been murdered - see An agony of tears). However, he is also remembered for his diary which provides historically important information on the development of Georgia as well as on the details of élite society in early Georgian London.

John Perceval was born in 1683 in County Cork, Ireland, part of an aristocratic family. His father, third baronet, died when he was two, and John succeeded to the title as fifth baronet in 1691 (after the death of his older brother). He was educated at Westminster School, London, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, but left before taking a degree. In 1704, he inherited large estates in Ireland, and the same year was first elected to the Irish House of Commons, and served on the Irish Privy Council. He married Catherine Parker, the daughter of Sir Philip Parker, in 1710. They had seven children, only three of whom survived into adulthood. Their oldest, also John, became the 2nd Earl of Egmont, and was a confidant of George III; and their grandson, Spencer Perceval, served as prime minister from 1809 until his assassination in 1812.

Perceval, determined to acquire English status (as well as Irish), assiduously cultivated the support of influential persons in the highest social and political circles, becoming closely acquainted with the Prince of Wales, later George II, Queen Caroline, and Sir Robert Walpole among others. He finally entered the British Parliament as Member for Harwich in 1727. The following year he joined the committee investigating prison conditions, and became a close associate of the committee’s chairman James Oglethorpe. In 1730, with Oglethorpe and others, he formed the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America. Two years later, King George II granted the colony a charter, naming Perceval president of the Georgia Trustees. A year later, Perceval was created Earl of Egmont in the Peerage of Ireland. In 1734, Egmont stood down from his Harwich seat (in favour of his son, who failed to secure it), and concentrated on his work, with Oglethorpe, to establish the colony of Georgia. He died on 1 May 1748. Further information online can be found at Wikipedia or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ONDB - log-in required).

Egmont was a committed diarist. It seems he started keeping a journal in his teenage years, however only diaries from the last two decades of his life appear to be extant (with the exception of a travel diary from 1701, and a few weeks from 1728-1729). These were first published in 1920-1923 by the Historical Manuscripts Commission as Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont (in three volumes, all freely available at Internet Archive: 1730-1733, 1734-1738, 1739-1747, this latter volume also includes a few pages of diary from 1728-1729 and a 170-page index for all three volumes). The diaries are considered an important primary source of information about Parliamentary debates in the 1730s, and about the history of the development of the Georgia colony.

According to the introduction by R. A. Roberts ‘[Egmont’s] diary is a punctilious work founded on personal knowledge, laboriously entered up with details of events, speeches, conversations, reflections, and the like, both public and private and personal.’ Roberts gives further details: ‘The entries were made either day by day or, possibly, on the days when he “stayed at home,” or during the evenings which he “spent in his study” - in any case quite near to the events chronicled, when impressions were fresh in his mind. There are periods in the year which are lightly passed over or omitted altogether, chiefly those of the summer holiday months spent at his country house at Charlton, or on visits to Bath. But when residing in town, as was his habit for the greater part of the year, and especially during the sessions of Parliament, his diligence and assiduity as a diarist are most remarkable.’

The ONDB has this assessment: ‘Egmont kept a personal diary for many years, and this, together with his accounts of the Georgia trustees’ proceedings, provides a mine of information not only about his own life but also about many different facets of √©lite society in early Georgian London. Egmont’s diaries, and the unreliable Genealogical History of the House of Yvery, published under his supervision in 1742, lend credence to the contemporary view of him as a pompous and conceited person. However, his diaries also reveal that he had a deep and abiding love of the arts and enjoyed a generally happy relationship with his wife.’

In 1989, University of Missouri Press published The English Travels of Sir John Percival and William Byrd II: the Percival diary of 1701 as edited by Mark R. Wenger. Here, though, are several extracts from the volumes published in 1920-1923.

7 April 1734
‘This morning I went to chapel, then to the Prince of Orange’s levee, who asked me several questions about Ireland. Then I went to the Prince of Wales’ Court, who asked me if my son was sure at Harwich. I replied, Yes, if no tricks were played me. He said it would be hard indeed that so good a friend to the Government as I am should have tricks played me. I dined with my Lord Tyrconnel in company of the Earl of Shaftesbury, Captain Coram, Dr. Rundle, Mr. Vernon, and Mr. Martin, our secretary.

I was called from thence by Cousin Ned Southwell to go to Wotton the Painter’s, to see some noble large hunting pieces made by him for the Earl of Sunderland to be set up at Althorp. He is the best painter of horses in England.

I passed some time at the coffee house, and then returned home. My son returned from Malden, where he and Mr. Cross took up their freedom. One Malden of the place, an apothecary, told my son that his brother-in-law, Alderman Rudland of Harwich, would to his knowledge vote for my son. This morning Mr. Horace Walpole went to Harwich in order to embark for Holland.’

25 December 1735
‘Christmas Day, communicated at the King’s Chapel. Dr. Couraye dined with me. Went in the evening again to chapel, and from thence to the coffee house, where Mr. John Banks, late member for Corfe Castle in Dorsetshire, told several of the company who were sitting together that Justice Robe, now living at Clerkenwell, cured his butler of an inveterate rheumatism by a powder he called his magnetic powder. The man had been long so ill that he had lost the use of his hand, when Robe, who was an acquaintance of Mr. Banks’ father, ordered him to be laid in bed, after he had saved about three pints or two quarts of his urine made in quantities after a considerable retention. This urine the justice set on the fire and put into it some of his powder, stirring it round with a stick that had several notches in it (which Mr. Banks thought was to show there was some mystery in the thing). The whole family stood by the bed, as did some friends called in to watch if the Justice gave the man anything inwardly, but he never approached him, continuing at the fire and stirring the urine and saying at times, “Now in three minutes you shall see your butler begin to sweat; now in five minutes he shall sweat stronger; now in three minutes he shall sweat plentifully”: all which they observed to be true. At length, having finished his operation, he bid the man remain an hour in bed and cool gradually, and then to get up and dress himself by the fire, and stay an hour in the room, after which he might go out about his master’s business. The man followed his directions, and from that day to this never ailed anything, being perfectly cured. Mr. Banks asked him if he was dry all the time he sweated, or found any particular affection. He replied, No, only that he lay as one in a trance quite listless of using his limbs. He also expressed his apprehension to the Justice that if he took his servant into the country where he was going the rheumatism might return, and what should he do in that case? The Justice replied he need but write him word of it, for he would bottle up the urine, and it would serve to recover him a second time though at a hundred miles distance. This is a plain instance of sympathetic cure, though very extraordinary, but nobody doubted Mr. Banks’ veracity, and besides Governor Peachy, who was present, declared he knew another instance of Justice Robe’s making a like cure the same way.’

14 October 1736
‘Returned to Charlton to dinner. A few days ago Lady Catherine Shirley died in 24 hours by the sting of a wasp, on which being advised to clap on a halfpenny to assuage and draw out the venom, the sting which remained within the flesh mortified the part and killed her.

Also a few days ago, the Queen returning from London to Kensington, the mob got round her coach and cried, “No gin, no King”; upon which she put forth her head and told them that if they had patience till the next Session they should have again both their gin and their King.’

2 November 1739
Mr. Verelts brought me letters from Mr. Oglethorp to the Trustees, dated from Frederica 4 July and from Savannah 16 the same month. I also had a letter from Mr. Oglethorp dated from Frederica 5 July.

Mr. Verelts told me Mr. Ausperger speaks very advantageously of the colony, to which he intends to return after he has settled some affairs in Switzerland his native country. He said he eat some grapes at Savannah in July as fine as can be seen, which will make the best Vidonia wine. He brought over twelve pound of extraordinary good silk, and there had been more of it, but that a multitude of worms died by putting them into the place where our sick people were kept.’

10 November 1739
‘This day Dr. Bearcroft, preacher at the Charterhouse and King’s Chaplain, formerly my son’s tutor, married my daughter to Sir John Rawdon, and gave me a certificate thereof signed on the back of the licence. They were married in my chapel at Charlton.’

12 November 1739
‘This day I gave the wedding dinner.’

The Diary Junction

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