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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Thomas Fyshe Palmer
August 1747 – 2 June 1802

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Thomas Fyshe Palmer

Thomas Fyshe Palmer was born in Ickwell, Bedfordshire, England, the son of Henry Fyshe who assumed the added name of Palmer because of an inheritance, and Elizabeth, daughter of James Ingram of Barnet.

Palmer was educated at Eton College and Queen’s College, Cambridge from 1765, with the purpose of taking holy orders in the Church of England. He graduated B.A. in 1769, M.A. in 1772, and BD in 1781. He obtained a fellowship of Queens’ in 1781, and officiated for a year as curate at Leatherhead, Surrey. While at Leatherhead he was introduced to Samuel Johnson, and dined with him in London; but he had become disillusioned with some aspects of the Church of England.

Palmer then read in Joseph Priestley’s works, and became a Unitarian. For the next ten years Palmer preached Unitarianism to congregations in Dundee and other Scottish towns. A Unitarian society had been founded by William Christie, a merchant, at Montrose, and Palmer offered his services as a preacher (14 July 1783). In November 1783 Palmer reached Montrose, and remained as Christie’s colleague till May 1785. He then moved to Dundee to become pastor of a new Unitarian society there, and he founded a Unitarian church. He preached also in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Arbroath, and Forfar, and formed further Unitarian societies. In 1789 he took temporary charge of the society at Newcastle. In 1792 his sermons in Edinburgh attracted attention, and pamphlets were published in refutation of his doctrines.

When agitation for political reform began in 1792, Dundee became one of its centres in Scotland. A society called the ‘Friends of Liberty’ was formed in 1793, and met in the Berean meeting-house in the Methodist Close, beside the house where Palmer lived in the Overgait. The society was composed mainly of working men. One evening in June 1793 Palmer was attended a meeting, when George Mealmaker, weaver in Dundee, brought a draft of an address to the public which he purposed circulating as a handbill. Palmer revised it, modifying it to a complaint against the government for war taxation, and a claim for universal suffrage and short parliaments. The address was sent to be printed in Edinburgh in July 1793. The authorities were alarmed, and decided to meet an anticipated revolution in time; and, in the belief that they were attacking a revolutionary leader, Palmer was arrested in Edinburgh on 2 August on a charge of sedition as the author of the document.

At the preliminary legal inquiry he refused to answer the questions put to him, pleading his ignorance of Scots law. He was confined in Edinburgh gaol, but afterwards freed on bail. An indictment was served on him directing him to appear at the circuit court, Perth on 12 September to answer to the charge. The presiding judges were David Rae, Lord Eskgrove and Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby; the prosecutor was John Burnett, advocate-depute, assisted by Allan Maconochie; and Palmer was defended by John Clerk, and Mr. Haggart. One of the first witnesses was George Mealmaker, who admitted that he was the author of the address, and stated that Palmer was opposed to its publication. Other officials of the ‘Friends of Liberty’ corroborated, and the evidence proved nothing relevant to the charge beyond the fact that Palmer had ordered one thousand copies to be printed, but had given no instructions as to distribution.
Both the judges summed up adversely, and, when the jury found the accused guilty, he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. The conviction of Palmer, following close on that of Thomas Muir, raised indignation among the Whig party throughout the kingdom; and during February and March 1794 attempts were made by the Earl of Lauderdale and Earl Stanhope in the House of Lords, and by Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan in the House of Commons, to obtain the reversal of the sentence. But the government, under William Pitt, was too strong.

Palmer was detained in Perth Tolbooth for three months, then taken to London and placed on the hulk Stanislaus at Woolwich, where he was put in irons for forced labour for three months. Palmer left in the Surprize, along with the so-called Scottish Martyrs, Thomas Muir, William Skirving and Maurice Margarot, embarking in February but sailing in April 1794, with a gang of convicts for Botany Bay. The vessel arrived at Port Jackson, New South Wales, on 25 October, and as Palmer and his companions had letters of introduction to the governor, they were well treated, and had houses assigned to them.

Whilst serving his seven years of exile in Sydney Palmer did not suffer the usual convict restraint, and he engaged in business enterprises. Besides cultivating the land, the exiled reformers constructed a small vessel, and traded to Norfolk Island. At the end of 1799 Palmer and his friend James Ellis—who had followed him from Dundee as a colonist—combined with others to purchase a vessel in which they might return home, when Palmer’s sentence expired in September 1800.

Palmer and Ellis intended to trade on the homeward way, and provisioned their vessel for six months; but their hopes of securing cargo in New Zealand were disappointed, and they were held up for half a year. They sailed to Tongatabu, where a war prevented them from landing. They steered for the Fiji Islands, where they were well received; but while making for Goraa, one of the group, their vessel struck a reef. Having refitted, they started for Macao.

Adverse storms drove them about the Pacific until their provisions were exhausted, and they were compelled to put in at Guguan, one of the Ladrone Islands, then under Spanish rule. Spain and Britain were then at war, and Spanish governor treated them as prisoners of war. When Palmer was attacked with dysentery, he succumbed. He died on 2 June 1802, and was buried by the seashore. Two years later an American captain touched at the Isle of Guguan, and, having found out where Palmer had been buried, he had the body exhumed and taken on board his vessel, with the governor’s permission. The remains were taken to Boston, Massachusetts, and reinterred in the cemetery there.

A monument was erected in the Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh, in 1844 to commemorate Palmer, Muir, and the other Scottish Martyrs.

Palmer’s publications were mostly magazine articles and pamphlets.

  • To the Theological Repository he contributed regularly in 1789–90, as Anglo-Scotus.
  • In 1792 he published a controversial pamphlet entitled An Attempt to refute a Sermon by H. D. Inglis on the Godhead of Jesus Christ, and to restore the long-lost Truth of the First Commandment, against Henry David Inglis.
  • His Narrative of the Sufferings of T. F. Palmer and W. Skirving was published in 1797.
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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Petty 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Marquess of Lansdowne
2 May 1737 – 7 May 1805

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William Petty

He was born William Fitzmaurice in Dublin in Ireland, the first son of John Fitzmaurice, who was the second surviving son of the 1st Earl of Kerry; himself a descendant of King Edward I. William’s brother was The Honourable Thomas Fitzmaurice (1742–1793). Lord Kerry had married Anne Petty, the daughter of Sir William Petty, Surveyor General of Ireland, whose elder son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1688 and (on the elder son’s death) whose younger son had been created Baron Shelburne in 1699 and Earl of Shelburne in 1719. On the younger son’s death the Petty estates passed to the aforementioned John Fitzmaurice, who changed his branch of the family’s surname to “Petty” in place of “Fitzmaurice”, and was created Viscount Fitzmaurice later in 1751 and Earl of Shelburne in 1753 (after which his elder son John was styled Viscount Fitzmaurice). His grandfather Lord Kerry died when he was four, but Fitzmaurice grew up with other people’s grim memories of a “Tyrant” whose family and sevants lived in permanent fear of him.

Fitzmaurice spent his childhood “in the remotest parts of the south of Ireland,” and, according to his own account, when he entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1755, he had “both everything to learn and everything to unlearn”. From a tutor whom he describes as “narrow-minded” he received advantageous guidance in his studies, but he attributes his improvement in manners and in knowledge of the world chiefly to the fact that, as was his “fate through life”, he fell in “with clever but unpopular connexions”.

Shortly after leaving the university he served in 20th Foot regiment commanded by James Wolfe during the Seven Years’ War. He became friends with one of his fellow officers Charles Grey whose career he later assisted. In 1757 he took part in the amphibious Raid on Rochefort which withdrew without making any serious attempt on the town. The following year he was sent to serve in Germany and distinguished himself at Minden and Kloster-Kampen. For his services he was appointed aide-de-camp to the new King, George III, with the rank of Colonel. This brought protests from several members of the cabinet as it meant he was promoted ahead of much more senior officers. In response to the appointment Duke of Richmond resigned a post in the royal household. Though he had no active military career after this, his early promotion as colonel meant that he would be further promoted through seniority to major-general in 1765, lieutenant-general in 1772 and general in 1783.

On 2 June 1760, while still abroad, Fitzmaurice had been returned to the British House of Commons as member for Wycombe. He was re-elected unopposed at the general election of 1761, and was also elected to the Irish House of Commons for County Kerry. However, on 14 May 1761, before either Parliament met, he succeeded on his father’s death as 2nd Earl of Shelburne in the Peerage of Ireland and 2nd Baron Wycombe in the Peerage of Great Britain. As a result he lost his seat in both Houses of Commons and moved up to the House of Lords, though he would not take his seat in the Irish House of Lords until April 1764. He was succeeded in Wycombe by one of his supporters Colonel Isaac Barré who had a distinguished war record after serving with James Wolfe in Canada.

Shelburne’s new military role close to the King brought him into communication with Lord Bute, who was the King’s closest advisor and a senior minister in the government. In 1761 Shelburne was employed by Bute to negotiate for the support of Henry Fox. Fox held the lucrative but unimportant post of Paymaster of the Forces, but commanded large support in the House of Commons and could boost Bute’s powerbase. Shelburne was opposed to Pitt, who had resigned from the government in 1761. Under instructions from Shelburne, Barré made a violent attack on Pitt in the House of Commons.

During 1762 negotiations for a peace agreement went on in London and Paris. Eventually a deal was agreed but it was heavily criticised for the perceived leniency of its terms as it handed back a number of captured territories to France and Spain. Defending it in the House of Lords, Shelburne observed “the security of the British colonies in North America was the first cause of the war” asserting that security “has been wisely attended to in the negotiations for peace”. Led by Fox, the government was able to push the peace treaty through parliament despite opposition led by Pitt. Shortly afterwards, Bute chose to resign as Prime Minister and retire from politics and was replaced by George Grenville.

Shelburne joined the Grenville ministry in 1763 as First Lord of Trade. By this stage Shelburne had changed his opinion of Pitt and become an admirer of him. After failing to secure Pitt’s inclusion in the Cabinet he resigned office after only a few months. Having moreover on account of his support of Pitt on the question of Wilkes’s expulsion from the House of Commons incurred the displeasure of the King, he retired for a time to his estate.

After Pitt’s return to power in 1766 he became Southern Secretary, but during Pitt’s illness his conciliatory policy towards America was completely thwarted by his colleagues and the King, and in 1768 he was dismissed from office. During the Corsican Crisis, sparked by the French invasion of Corsica, Shelburne was the major voice in the cabinet who favoured assisting the Corsican Republic. Although secret aid was given to the Corsicans it was decided not to intervene military and provoke a war with France, a decision made easier by the departure of the hard-line Shelburne from the cabinet.

In June 1768 the General Court incorporated the district of Shelburne, Massachusetts from the area formerly known as “Deerfield Northeast” and in 1786 the district became a town. The town was named in honour of Lord Shelburne, who, in return sent a church bell, which never reached the town.

Shelburne went into Opposition where he continued to associate with William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. They were both critical of the policies of the North government in the years leading up to the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775. As the war progressed Shelburne co-operated with the Rockingham Whigs to attack the government of Lord North. After a British army was compelled to surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, Shelburne joined other leaders of the Opposition to call for a total withdrawal of British troops.

In March 1782 following the down fall of the North Government Shelburne agreed to take office under Lord Rockingham on condition that the King would recognise the United States. Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lord Rockingham on 1 July 1782 Shelburne succeeded him as Prime Minister. Shelburne’s appointment by the King provoked Charles James Fox and his supporters, including Edmund Burke, to resign their posts on 4 July 1782. Burke scathingly compared Shelburne to his predecessor Rockingham. One of the figures brought in as a replacement was the 23-year-old William Pitt, son of Shelburne’s former political ally, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Shelburne’s government continued to negotiate for peace in Paris using Richard Oswald as the chief negotiator. Shelburne entertained a French peace envoy Joseph Matthias Gérard de Rayneval at his country estate in Wiltshire, and they discreetly agreed on a number of points which formed a basis for peace. Shelburne’s own envoys negotiated a separate peace with American commissioners which eventually led to an agreement on American independence and the borders of the newly created United States. Shelburne agreed to generous borders in the Illinois Country, but rejected demands by Benjamin Franklin for the cession of Canada and other territories.

Fox’s departure led to the unexpected creation of a coalition involving Fox and Lord North which dominated the Opposition. In April 1783 the Opposition forced Shelburne’s resignation. The major achievement of Shelburne’s time in office was the agreement of peace terms which formed the basis of the Peace of Paris bringing the American War of Independence to an end.

His fall was perhaps hastened by his plans for the reform of the public service. He had also in contemplation a Bill to promote free trade between Britain and the United States.

When Pitt became Prime Minister in 1784, Shelburne, instead of receiving a place in the Cabinet, was created Marquess of Lansdowne. Though giving a general support to the policy of Pitt, he from this time ceased to take an active part in public affairs. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1803.

Lord Lansdowne was twice married. First to Lady Sophia Carteret (26 August 1745 – 5 January 1771), daughter of the 1st Earl Granville, through whom he obtained the Lansdowne estates near Bath. They had at least one child:

Secondly to Lady Louisa FitzPatrick (1755 – 7 August 1789), daughter of the 1st Earl of Upper Ossory. They had at least two children:

Lord Shelburne’s Government, July 1782 – April 1783

  • Lord Shelburne – First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Lords
  • Lord Thurlow – Lord Chancellor
  • Lord Camden – Lord President of the Council
  • The Duke of Grafton – Lord Privy Seal
  • Thomas Townshend – Secretary of State for the Home Department and Leader of the House of Commons
  • Lord Grantham – Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Lord Keppel – First Lord of the Admiralty
  • Henry Seymour Conway – Commander in Chief of the Forces
  • The Duke of Richmond – Master-General of the Ordnance
  • William Pitt – Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Lord Ashburton – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Changes

  • January 1783 – Lord Howe succeeds Lord Keppel at the Admiralty.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Edward James Eliot
24 August 1758 – 20 September 1797

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Edward James Eliot

Eliot was born in Cornwall, the son of Edward Craggs-Eliot (1727–1804), politician, created Baron Eliot in 1784.

Edward James went to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1775, becoming friends with the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and was awarded MA in 1780. He was elected Member of Parliament for St Germans, Cornwall from 1780 and for Liskeard from 1784. He soon became a Treasury minister from 1782, and was a member of the government of the Younger Pitt from 1783, being appointed King’s Remembrancer in the Exchequer of pleas in 1785.

He married Harriot Pitt, the younger daughter of William Pitt the Elder and sister to the Younger Pitt, in 1785. One year later, and five days after the birth of their only child, a daughter named Harriot Hester, Eliot’s wife died from childbirth complications. Eliot never recovered from the grief of losing his wife.

After Harriot’s death, Eliot moved to Broomfield, near Clapham, where he came into contact with the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, whose cause he espoused. He had been a friend of William Wilberforce for some years, and the pair of them had accompanied Pitt to France. Now he found himself living close to Wilberforce and other leading members of the group dubbed ‘the Saints’.

He began to take an active part in their reforming causes, including the abolition of the slave trade, prison reform and poor relief, the Proclamation Society, and Bishop Porteus’ Sunday Observance bill. He was active in lobbying the cause of the Clapham Sect in parliament and acted as a mediator between Wilberforce and Pitt in their campaigns.

In 1793, having resigned from the Treasury on health grounds, Eliot was appointed joint commissioner for Indian affairs. He became an investor in the British East India Company stock, and was expected to become governor-general of Bengal. However, he suffered from a recurring chronic stomach disorder which made it impossible for him to take up that office.

Eliot died at Port Eliot, Cornwall on 17 September 1797, and was buried at St Germans on 26 September 1797.

He had remained close to Pitt and Wilberforce, who both lamented his passing. His brother John succeeded to the barony and in 1815 was created Earl of St Germans.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Palmer (postal Innovator)
1742 – 16 August 1818

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John Palmer

John Palmer of Bath was a theatre owner and instigator of the British system of mail coaches that was the beginning of the great British post office reforms with the introduction of an efficient mail coach delivery service in Great Britain during the late 18th century. He was Mayor of Bath on two occasions and Comptroller General of the Post Office, and later served as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Bath between 1801 and 1807.

Palmer was the eldest son of a prosperous Bath brewer and theatre owner who inherited his father’s Old Orchard Street Theatre, and obtained a royal letters patent for it in 1768 which gave him an effective monopoly on playhouses in the city and the right to use the title “Theatre Royal”, the first theatre outside London to acquire it.

Palmer’s second theatre in Bristol was granted the same status in 1778, becoming the Theatre Royal, Bristol. Palmer worked as his father’s London agent, frequently travelling between London and Bath, and after his father decided to retire in 1776 the patent was transferred to him.

He continued to manage the theatre until 1785. The two theatres shared one acting company, so Palmer had to move his actors, stagehands and props quickly between Bristol and Bath, he set up a coach service which provided safe, quick and efficient transport for his actors and materials. Later, when Palmer became involved in the Post Office, he believed that the coach service he had previously run between theatres could be utilized for a countrywide mail delivery service.

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A print showing a mail coach decorated in the black and scarlet Post Office livery near Newmarket, Suffolk in 1827. The guard can be seen standing at the rear.

The postal delivery service in Britain had existed in the same form for about 150 years—from its introduction in 1635, mounted carriers had ridden between “posts” where the postmaster would remove the letters for the local area before handing the remaining letters and any additions to the next rider. The riders were frequent targets for robbers, and the system was inefficient.

Because Palmer made much use of stagecoach services between cities in the course of his business, and noted that it seemed far more efficient than the system of mail delivery then in operation, so that he could travel from Bath to London in a single day while the mail took three days. It occurred to him that this coach service could be developed into a national mail delivery service, so in 1782 he suggested to the Post Office in London that they take up the idea. He met resistance from officials who believed that the existing system could not be improved, but eventually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Pitt, allowed him to carry out an experimental run between Bristol and London. Under the old system the journey had taken up to 38 hours. The coach, funded by Palmer, left Bristol at 4 pm on 2 August 1784 and arrived in London just 16 hours later.

Impressed by the trial run, Pitt authorized the creation of new routes. Within the month the service had been extended from London to Norwich, Nottingham, Liverpool and Manchester, and by the end of 1785 services to the following major towns and cities of England and Wales had also been linked: Leeds, Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Exeter, Gloucester, Worcester, Holyhead and Carlisle. A service to Edinburgh was added the next year, and Palmer was rewarded by being made Surveyor and Comptroller General of the Post Office. By 1797 there were forty-two routes.

Part of Palmer’s argument for the changes had been that such an improvement in the service would justify an increase in postal charges, and he had been promised two-and-a-half percent of any increase in the revenue as well as control of the new service. He was appointed Comptroller General of the Post Office in 1786, but there was some delay in paying him his share of the very substantial increase in revenue (which had risen from £51,000 in 1784 to £73,000 in 1787). He was eventually granted a payment of arrears after a commission of inquiry investigated in 1789, but not the full sum that he claimed.

Initially the coach, horses and driver were all supplied by contractors. There was strong competition for the contracts because they provided a fixed regular income in addition to which the companies could charge fares for the passengers. By the beginning of the 19th century the Post Office had their own fleet of coaches with black and scarlet livery. The early coaches were poorly built, but in 1787 the Post Office adopted John Besant’s improved and patented design, after which Besant, with his partner John Vidler, enjoyed a monopoly on the supply of coaches, and a virtual monopoly on their upkeep and servicing.

As Comptroller General, Palmer was subordinate to the Postmaster General, and although he attempted to reform the operation of the Post Office, he found himself continually at odds with his superior, not least because of his habit of exceeding his legitimate powers without reference to the postmaster.

The development of railways in the 1830s spelt the end for the mail coach service. The first rail delivery between Liverpool and Manchester took place on 11 November 1830. By the early 1840s many London-based mail coaches were starting to be withdrawn from service; the final service from London (to Norwich) was shut down in 1846. Regional mail coaches continued into the 1850s, but these too were eventually replaced by rail services.

After a series of controversies, he was effectively dismissed in 1792, but the following year Pitt granted him a government pension of £3,000 a year. However, Palmer continued to press his claim for the much greater sum to which he believed he was entitled, and eventually in 1813 (long after Pitt’s death) a parliamentary bill was passed to grant him the sum of £50,000.

The institution of mail coaches permanently revolutionized the British postal service, and Palmer was widely honoured for it, being presented with the freedom of numerous towns and cities. In Bath he was particularly cherished, becoming Mayor in 1796 and again in 1809, and sitting as Member of Parliament for the city from 1801 to 1808. Such was his influence with the Common Council of Bath (which in those days had the exclusive right to vote for the city’s MPs) that he was able to stand down from Parliament in 1808 in the knowledge that his son Charles would be elected in his place.

He died at Brighton in 1818, and was buried in the Abbey Church at Bath.

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