Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

19 May 2022

Hugh Danby – JMW Turner’s Phantom Son

According to his first biographer, Walter Thornbury, Turner had four illegitimate children, at least one of whom was a boy.  He provides no evidence for this, except for this piece of hearsay.
“‘I once,’ says a friend, ‘heard Mr Crabb Robinson (the friend of Wordsworth) casually mention a remark dropped by the late Miss Maria Denman, when the two were out for an excursion with Rogers (I think), and had put up at an inn in a village near London. ‘That’, said the lady, pointing to a youth who happened to pass, ‘is Turner's natural son.’”

Portrait of JMW Turner standing in his studio, with paintings, a palette of paints and brushes, and a propped umbrellaJ.M.W. Turner by Charles Turner, engraving published 1852 NPG D6997 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

In his 1938 book about Turner’s hidden life, Bernard Falk says that there were, in fact, only three children, two girls and a boy named Hugh; all the result of Turner’s relationship with Sarah Danby. Turner acknowledged his daughters, Evelina and Georgiana, but never made any mention of a son, which, if he had had one, would have been unusual, given Turner’s general attitude towards women.

So, who was Hugh Danby?  Falk suggests that he was seen from time to time helping Turner’s father 'Old Dad' at the Queen Anne Street studio but, although some of Turner’s friends reported seeing a girl who resembled him, I can find no mention of a boy.

Falk also says that Hugh’s name appears in the list of people who contested Turner’s will in 1852 but not in the list of benefactors when the will was finally settled in 1856, because he had died in the interim.  However, I can find no record of a Hugh Danby who died between those years nor of a Hugh amongst the family of Sarah Danby’s husband, John.

Interior of the Court of Chancery showing the law officials in black gowns and white wigs and the people appearing in court to give evidenceCourt of Chancery, Lincoln's Inn Hall, from Microcosm of London (1808-1810)

I think that the answer lies in the litigation documents for the original case in the Court of Chancery.  In the list of claimants, the only Danby I can find is Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, who is then mentioned in the final settlement as ‘since deceased’.  However, immediately preceding Hannah’s name is that of Turner’s executor, Hugh Andrew Johnston Munro.  I believe that someone transcribing the list, possibly for a newspaper report, elided the two names, thus creating Hugh Danby.  Again, some later reports just refer to H. Danby (since deceased), making it possible to assume, erroneously, that this refers to Hugh Danby.

List of cases relating to the will of Mr. Turner, R.A. showing the names of the parties involved - Hannah Danby is listed, but not Hugh DanbyList of cases relating to the will of Mr. Turner, R.A. showing the names of the parties involved - Return to an order of the House of Lords 11 July 1861

It is my strong belief that Hugh Danby never existed.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Bernard Falk, Turner the Painter: His Hidden Life (London 1938).
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016).
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians (London, 1862).
Documents for the case in the Court of Chancery are held at The National Archives


Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

Turner's House

17 May 2022

The Society of the Double Cross

In the archives of the Hakluyt Society at the British Library, I found a letter from 1963 sent by Philip Swann to the Honorary Secretary R A Skelton.  Swann had worked as a cartographer in Venezuela in the 1930s and was now living in retirement in New Zealand.

In Venezuela, Swann was introduced by a Scottish mining engineer to a family who produced a curious bundle of documents from a secret society known as La Socied de la Doble Cruz.  The papers referred to hordes of booty hidden across a multitude of exotic hideaways.  They mentioned legendary figures such as Montezuma and Henry Morgan and promised, should the strange hieroglyphics throughout the document be understood, potential lost fortunes might be recovered.  ‘The papers were found in the shape of a ball covered with (bitumen) fastened with two gold pins. There was also ten small bars of gold, one semi-precious stone, four minted coins very poorly done… four or five weights (presumably for weighing gold) a bundle of papers wrapped in a sort of wax…’

Hieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip SwannHieroglyphics copied from the Venezuelan papers by Philip Swann MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 f.111


Swann said he had been sworn to absolute secrecy and, even 30 years later, felt obliged to ask that the matter be treated as confidential.  He asked the Hakluyt Society for advice on who might take up the research: ‘Even now, I still feel there is a glimmer of truth in it all, and it is worthy of investigation’.  He attached a list of sixteen things which should be explored, including the Booty of Mexico, activities on Lake Maracaibo, the Secrets of the Vulgate, and buried treasure on the Island of Cuanacoco.

Some of the events Swann writes about can be traced in other collection items at the British Library.  Morgan’s raid on Maracaibo was well documented in the 1678 publication Bucaniers of America by Alexandre Exquemelin, which is littered with enticing clues connected to the papers.

Portrait of Captain Henry Morgan set against a background with shipsCaptain Henry Morgan from A. O. Exquemelin, Bucaniers of America, or, A true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French (London, 1684)

Elsewhere I discovered further tantalising leads.  Famed shipwreck salvager and treasure hunter Arthur McKee had a history of success discovering riches of bygone eras.  In his journals, McKee documented a curious excursion: ‘I was contacted by two men from Venezuela who stated they wished to discuss with me some strange markings found on some old documents. These documents were discovered at an old house in Venezuela which had been torn down’.

McKee described manuscripts inscribed on a skin-like material and leather, dated as early as 1557, which referred to ‘The organisation of the Doble Cruz’.  He spoke of the same strange hieroglyphs mentioned by Swann.  His translations mirrored those of Swann in a fashion beyond mere coincidence, with just enough translation discrepancies to suggest this wasn’t a copy of earlier research.  He appeared to be witnessing the same original documents.

In 1976 McKee organised an expedition.  The Forte La Tortuga was a supposed pirate fortress located 110 miles off the Venezuela coast.  McKee and two academics were transported to the deserted island by helicopter.  The expedition was doomed.  Injury and disorientation led to a very real fight for survival.  Rescued by the army ten days later, the quest was abandoned.

La Orden de la Doble Cruz still exists.  Based in Venezuela, a branch of the Knights Templar Illuminati Order fly the flag of the Double Cross, their legitimacy ‘evidenced by authentic ancient documents that rest in this city of Maracaibo, in our beloved country Venezuela’.

Craig Campbell
Formerly Curatorial Support Officer, India Office Records
@archaeodad

Further reading:
MSS EUR F594/5/1/3 Correspondence addressed to the Honorary Secretary of the Hakluyt Society, R.A. Skelton. ff 108-111 Letter from Philip Swann. 1963.
British Library Add MS 36330 Venezuela Papers. Vol. XVII. (ff. 345). 1653-1680. ff. 317, 332 Captain Henry Morgan: News of his design to surprise Cartagena: Madrid, 18 Mar. Spanish. 1676.
British Library Add MS 12428-12430 A Collection of Tracts relating to the Island of Jamaica, from 1503 to 1680. Journal kept by Col. William Beeston, from his first coming to Jamaica, 1655-1680.
British Library Sloane MS 2724 Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle: Collection of his papers and letters: 17th cent. f. 1 Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Morgan, Deputy-Governor and Commander in Chief of Jamaica: Proclamation conc. the Royal African Company: 1680/1
British Library RB.23.b.6178 Bucaniers of America: or, a true account of the most remarkable assaults committed of late years upon the coasts of the West-Indies, by the bucaniers of Jamaica and Tortuga, both English and French… London : printed for William Crooke, at the Green Dragon without Temple-bar. A. O Exquemelin, (Alexandre Olivier) 1684.

 

12 May 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

The current struggles with inflation encompass some of the highest rises in living memory, but current rises pale in comparison to the exceptional case of the year 1800 where inflation reached a dizzying 36%.  This is the highest known figure in British history.

Satirical print  from 1800 entitled 'Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!' , A fat 'forestaller' is dragged along (left to right) by a rope round his neck which is pulled by a chain of countrymen, to the cheers of a crowd.Satirical print from  1800 entitled ‘Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!!’ British Museum number 1868,0808.6904 © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The explanation given for this incredible rise is that the twenty years of Napoleonic Wars had drained the country’s resources and an ever increasing demand provoked by the industrial revolution.  The economy struggled to supply ample arms, food and fuel to the Army and Navy, and shortages emerged across all sorts of everyday goods.  This drove up the price of clothing, beverages, candles, coal, animal meat, dairy and cereals, so that the common person dealt with rises across most of the items they would ever seek to purchase.  Such goods had been increasing in price for decades as an increase in population and a decrease in mortality rate meant an increase in demand.  Given the incredible rises, wages struggled to keep up, so how did the government analyse the situation at the time?

Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread!'Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread! Add MS 38234, f.155  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Correspondence to Earl of Liverpool from the Office for Trade offers an insight into the tension on the streets. The Office representative describes crowds of people at Bishopsgate protesting about the price of bread, gathering and shouting in the streets of London.

 

Further correspondence (below) to the Earl describes the mood of the country at large.

Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Add MS 38234, f.189.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are various pleas to control prices, both in the Liverpool Papers and in correspondence to Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger, including pleas about the spiralling cost of meat and the price of salt needed for fisherman wishing to conserve fish. As well as petitions from various industries, one can also see an increasing ideological battle over the right course of economic actions. Two members of the House of Lords, Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville, wrote to Pitt about the inflation crisis, warning the Prime Minister not to attempt to bring in legislation to reign in prices.

Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’.Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.73.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the letter above, Lord Buckingham states that the best that can be achieved is to ‘regulate a measure but which all grain and flour shall be sold’, but there should be no attempt to then control market prices.

Lord Grenville agrees and even provides some inspiration for his principles in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which had been published 24 years earlier. Lord Grenville describes how he and Pitt were sceptical to the theory of the free-market, but ultimately came around to it.

Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’.Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.85.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the government discussing the grander narratives of economics, the population had to push through the inflation crisis.  Output and growth were still up, and consequently many were making the profits needed to ride out the inflationary crisis.  Labour in the Northern cities central to industrial output actually saw real wages rise, as demand for labour was so high, but the average worker in London saw their real income fall.  This particular inflation crisis would be short and painful, as a massive fall in inflation in 1803 would see prices adjust, but such fluctuations would continue throughout the 19th century.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from Part 1: The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795 

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Gilboy, Elizabeth W. 'The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England', The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 18, no. 3, 1936, pp. 134–43,