Posted on

Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan

Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.

Jonas Hanway (August 12, 1712 – September 5, 1786), English traveller and philanthropist, was born at Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.

While he was still a child his father, a victualler, died, and the family moved to London. In 1729 Jonas was apprenticed to a merchant in Lisbon. In 1743, after he had been some time in business for himself in London, he became a partner with Mr Dingley, a merchant in St Petersburg, and in this way was led to travel in Russia and Persia. Leaving St Petersburg on 10 September 1743, and passing south by Moscow, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, he embarked on the Caspian Sea on 22 November and arrived at Astrabad on 18 December. Here his goods were seized by Mohammed Hassan Beg, and it was only after great privations that he reached the camp of Nadir Shah, under whose protection he recovered most (85%) of his property.

His return journey was embarrassed by sickness (at Resht), by attacks from pirates, and by six weeks’ quarantine; and he only reappeared at St Petersburg on 1 January 1745. He again left the Russian capital on 9 July 1750 and travelled through Germany and the Netherlands to England (28 October). The rest of his life was mostly spent in London, where the narrative of his travels (published in 1753) soon made him a man of note, and where he devoted himself to philanthropy and good citizenship.


In 1756, Hanway founded The Marine Society, to keep up the supply of British seamen; in 1758, he became a governor of the Foundling Hospital, a position which was upgraded to vice president in 1772; he was instrumental in establishing the Magdalen Hospital; in 1761 he procured a better system of parochial birth registration in London; and in 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the navy (10 July); this office he held till October 1783. He died, unmarried, on 5 September 1786 and is now buried in the crypt at St. Mary’s Church, Hanwell.
Continue reading Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan

Posted on

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Founder of Singapore, Father of the London Zoo

London Zoo founder

thomasSir Thomas Stamford Raffles, FRS (6 July 1781 – 5 July 1826) was a British statesman, best known for his founding of the city of Singapore (now the city-state of the Republic of Singapore) and the London Zoo.

Raffles is often described as the “Father of Singapore” and the “Father of the London Zoo“. He was also heavily involved in the conquest of the Indonesian island of Java from Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the expansion of the British Empire. He was also an amateur writer and wrote a book titled History of Java (1817).

Raffles was born on the ship Ann off the coast of Port Morant, Jamaica, to Captain Benjamin Raffles (d. June 1797) and Anne Raffles (née Lyde). His father was a Yorkshireman who had a burgeoning family and little luck in the West Indies trade during the American Revolution, sending the family into debt. The little money the family had went into schooling Raffles. He attended a boarding school. In 1795, at the age of 14, Raffles started working as a clerk in London for the British East India Company, the trading company that shaped many of Britain’s overseas conquests. In 1805 he was sent to what is now Penang in the country of Malaysia, then called the Prince of Wales Island, starting his long association with Southeast Asia. He started with a post under the Honourable Philip Dundas, the Governor of Penang. He was appointed assistant secretary to the new Governor of Penang in 1805 and married Olivia Mariamne Fancourt, a widow who was formerly married to Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt, an assistant surgeon in Madras who had died in 1800. At this time he also made the acquaintance of Thomas Otho Travers, who would accompany him for the next twenty years.

Continue reading Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Founder of Singapore, Father of the London Zoo

Posted on

Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle


Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), was an illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman known as Maria Belle. Dido was sent to live in the household of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who was Lindsay’s uncle and thus Dido’s great-uncle. Remarkably, she was brought up as a free young gentlewoman at Kenwood House at the same time as her great-uncle, in his capacity as Lord Chief Justice, was called on to rule on cases affecting the legitimacy of the slave trade.

Born around 1761, she was baptised in 1766 at St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury. Her baptism record shows that she was born while her father, John Lindsay, was in the West Indies and that her mother’s name was Maria Belle. It has been suggested that her mother was an African slave captured from a Spanish ship during the capture of Havana from the Spanish in 1762.Lindsay was at the time a Royal Navy captain on HMS Trent, a warship based in the West Indies that took part in the battle. This is uncertain, however, as there is no reason why any of the Spanish ships (which were immobilised in the inner harbour) would have had women on board when they were delivered up on the formal surrender of the fortress.

Continue reading Dido Elizabeth Belle

Posted on

Horatio Nelson

Horatio Nelson

“And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry.

Mr Shepherd answered for his being of a gentleman’s family, and mentioned a place; and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added –“He is a rear admiral of the white.He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he was stationed there, I believe, several years.”

Horatio Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England to the Reverend Edmund Nelson and Catherine Nelson. (His mother was a grandniece of Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford.) His mother died when Nelson was nine. He learnt to sail on Barton Broad on the Norfolk Broads, and by the time he was twelve, he had enrolled in the Royal Navy. His naval career began on January 1, 1771, when he reported to the warship Raissonable as an ordinary seaman and coxswain. The vessel was commanded by Nelson’s maternal uncle and, shortly after reporting aboard, Nelson was appointed a midshipman and began officer training.

In 1777 he was a lieutenant, assigned to the West Indies, during which time he saw action on the British side of the American Revolutionary War. By the time he was 20, in June 1779, he made captain; the frigate Hitchenbroke was his first command.

In 1781 he was involved in an action against the Spanish fortress of San Juan in Nicaragua. A success, the efforts involved still damaged Nelson’s health to the extent that he returned to England for more than a year. He eventually returned to active duty and was assigned to the Albemarle, in which he continued his efforts against the American rebels until the official end of the war in 1783.


In 1784, Nelson was given command of the 28-gun Boreas, and assigned to enforce the Navigation Act in the vicinity of Antigua. This was during the denouement of the American Revolutionary War, and enforcement of the act was problematic—now-foreign American vessels were no longer allowed to trade with British colonies in the Caribbean Sea, an unpopular rule with both the colonies and the Americans. After seizing four American vessels off Nevis, Nelson was sued by the captains of the ships for illegal seizure. As they were supported by the merchants of Nevis, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment and had to remain sequestered on Boreas for eight months. It took that long for the courts to deny the captains their claims, but in the interim Nelson met Fanny Nesbit, a widow native to Nevis, whom he would marry on March 11, 1787 at the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean.

Nelson lacked a commission starting in 1789, and lived on half pay for several years. But as the French Revolution began to export itself outside of France’s borders, he was recalled to service. Given the 64-gun Agamemnon in 1793, he soon started a long series of battles and engagements that would seal his place in history.

He was first assigned to the Mediterranean, based out of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1794 he was shot in the face during a joint operation at Calvi, Corsica, which cost him the sight in his right eye—his left eye suffered from the additional burden, and Nelson was slowly going blind up until his death; he would often wear a patch over his good eye to protect it.

In 1796, the command-in-chief of the fleet in the Mediterranean passed to Sir John Jervis, who tapped Nelson to be his commodore—the captain of Jervis’ flagship, HMS Captain.


The year 1797 was a full year for Nelson. On February 14, he was largely responsible for the British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. In the aftermath, Nelson was knighted a member of the Order of the Bath (hence the postnominal initials “K.B.”). In April of the same year he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue, the ninth highest rank in the Royal Navy. Later in the year, during an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he was shot in the right elbow with a musketball. This success was his unique defeat. He lost the lower half of his arm, and was unfit for duty until mid-December.

The next year, Nelson was once again responsible for a great victory over the French. The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Abukir Bay) took place on August 1, 1798, and as a result, Napoleon’s ambition to take the war to the British in India came to an end. The forces Napoleon had brought to Egypt were stranded, and Napoleon himself had to be smuggled back to France. For this spectacular victory, Nelson was granted the title of Baron Nelson (Nelson felt cheated that he was not awarded a greater title; Sir John Jervis had been made Earl St Vincent for his part in that battle, but the British Government insisted that an officer not commander-in-chief could not be raised to any peerage higher than a barony).

Not content to rest on his laurels, he then rescued the Neapolitan royal family from a French invasion in December. During this time, he fell in love with Emma Hamilton—the young wife of the elderly British ambassador to Naples. She became his mistress, returning to England to live openly with him, and eventually they had a daughter, Horatia. Some have suggested that a head wound he received at Abukir Bay was partially responsible for that conduct, and for the way he conducted the Neapolitan campaign—due simultaneously to his English hatred of Jacobins and his status as a Neapolitan royalist (he had been made Duke of Bronte in Sicily by the King of Naples in 1799)—now considered something of a disgrace to his name.

In 1799, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Red, the seventh highest rank in the Royal Navy. He was then assigned to the Foudroyant. In July, he aided with the reconquest of Naples, and was made Duke of Bronte by the Neapolitan king. His personal problems, and upper-level disappointment at his professional conduct caused him to be rotated back to England, but public knowledge of his affection for Lady Hamilton eventually induced the Admiralty to send him back to sea if only to get him away from her.

On January 1, 1801, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue (the sixth highest rank). Within a few months he was involved in the Battle of Copenhagen (April 2, 1801), which nullified the fleet of the Danes, in order to break up the armed neutrality of Denmark, Sweden and Russia. The action was considered somewhat underhanded by some, and in fact Nelson had been ordered to cease the battle by his commander Sir Hyde Parker. In a famous incident, however, he claimed he could not see the signal flags conveying the order, pointedly raising his telescope to his blind eye. His action was approved in retrospect, and in May he became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea, and was awarded the title of Viscount Nelson by the British crown.

Napoleon was amassing forces to invade England, however, and Nelson was soon placed in charge of defending the English Channel to prevent this. However, on October 22 an armistice was signed between the British and the French, and Nelson—in poor health again—retired to England where he stayed with his friends, Sir William and Lady Hamilton.


The Peace of Amiens was not to last long though, and Nelson soon returned to duty. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean, and assigned to the HMS Victory in May 1803. He joined the blockade of Toulon, France, and would not again set foot on dry land for more than two years. Nelson was promoted to Vi

Posted on

Doctor William Oliver

[My Mother] has written to my aunt, and we are all impatient for the answer. I do not know how to give up the idea of our both going to Paragon in May. Your going I consider as indispensably necessary, and I shall not like being left behind; there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at, and though, to be sure, the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns; and as to the trouble of accommodating us, whether there are one or two, it is much the same.

Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 3, 1801

William Oliver (14 August [O.S. 4 August] 1695 – 17 March 1764) was an English physician and philanthropist, and inventor of the Bath Oliver. He was born at Ludgvan, Cornwall, and baptised on 27 August 1695, described as the son of John Oliver. His family, originally seated at Trevarnoe in Sithney, resided afterwards in Ludgvan, and the estate of Treneere in Madron, which belonged to him, was sold in 1768 after his death. When he decided to erect a monument in Sithney churchyard to the memory of his parents, Alexander Pope wrote the epitaph and drew the design of the pillar.He was admitted a pensioner of Pembroke College, Cambridge on 17 September 1714, graduated M.B. in 1720, and M.D. in 1725, and to complete his medical training, entered at Leiden University on 15 November 1720. On 8 July 1756 he was incorporated at Oxford, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 22 January 1729–30.

On returning from Leyden, Oliver practised for a time at Plymouth, where he introduced inoculation for smallpoxbut about 1725 he settled at Bath and remained there for the rest of his life, obtaining in a very short time the leading practice of the city. This was mainly due to his friendship with Ralph Allen (a fellow Cornishman, who introduced him to Pope, Warburton, and the rest of the guests at Prior Park), and with Dr. William Borlase, his ‘friend and relation,’ who, after being his patient in 1730, sent to him the gentry of the west country.

William Oliver
Senior surgeon, Jeremiah Peirce, physician, Dr William Oliver, three patients

Oliver took great pains in obtaining subscriptions for the erection of the Water or General Hospital, now called the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, at Bath, and in 1737 made an offer of some land for its site, which was at first accepted, but afterwards declined. Next year he was appointed one of the treasurers to the fund, and in July 1739 he became a deputy-president. On 1 May 1740 he was appointed physician to the hospital, and on the same day Jeremiah (known as Jerry) Peirce became the surgeon. The regulations for the admission and removal of English patients were drawn up by him; and in 1756, when the privileges were extended to patients from Scotland and Ireland, he compiled a set of rules applicable to their case. Until 1 May 1761, when he and Peirce both resigned, he ruled the institution. The third article in Charleton’s Three Tracts on Bath Waters, 1774, consisted of ‘histories of hospital cases under the care of the late Dr. Oliver,’ a subject on which he had himself contemplated the publication of a volume; and Some Observations on Stomach Complaints, which were found among his papers, were printed in pp. 76–95 of the same work. Peirce and Oliver were painted together by William Hoare, R.A. in 1742, in a picture now in the board-room of the hospital, in the act of examining three patients, candidates for admission.

King Bladud’s Bath, Comforts of Bath, Rowlandson

Oliver’s position in the medical world of Bath involved him in trouble. Archibald Cleland, one of the hospital surgeons, was dismissed in 1743 on a charge of improper conduct, and the dismissal led to many pamphlets. An inquiry was held into the circumstances, under the presidency of Philip, brother of Ralph Allen; this resulted in Oliver’s conduct being highly commended. In 1757 Oliver and some other physicians in the city declined to attend any consultations with William Baylies, M.D. and Charles Lucas, M.D.,  in consequence of their reflections on the use and abuse of the waters, and their censures on the conduct of the physicians at the hospital. Much correspondence ensued, and it was published as proving the existence of a ‘physical confederacy in Bath.’ His medical skill is mentioned by Mrs. Anne Pitt.  and by Mrs. Delany. He and Peirce attended Ralph Allen in his last illness, and each received a complimentary legacy of £100.

Oliver is said to have invented the Bath bun, however it proved too fattening for his rheumatic patients, and so he invented the ‘Bath Oliver’ biscuit, and shortly before his death confided the recipe to his coachman Atkins, giving him at the same time £100 in money and ten sacks of the finest wheat-flour. The fortunate recipient opened a shop in Green Street, and soon acquired a large fortune. The ‘Bath Oliver’ is still a well-known brand.

Oliver purchased in 1746, as a vacation residence, a small farmhouse two miles from Box, near Bath, and called it Trevarnoe, after the scene of his childhood and the abode of his fathers. For many years before his death he was subject to the gout. He died at Bath on 17 March 1764, and was buried in All Saint’s Church of Weston, near that city, where an inscription ‘on a white tablet, supported by palm-branches,’ was erected to his memory. There is also a plain mural tablet to his memory in Bath Abbey.

The statement in the Life and Times of Selina, countess of Huntingdon (i. 450–1), that he remained ‘a most inveterate infidel till a short time before his death’ is probably an exaggeration. He was generally admitted to have been an eminently sensible man, and one also of a most compassionate and benevolent nature. His library was sold in 1764. His son, the third William Oliver, matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 20 January 1748–9, aged 18, and his name appears on the books at Leyden on 21 September 1753. The eldest daughter married a son of the Rev. John Acland, rector of Broadclyst, Devonshire; the second daughter, Charlotte, married, 14 April 1752, Sir John Pringle, bart., F.R.S. Some of his descendants are said to have been living at Bath in 1852.

Oliver published, in 1753, Myra: a pastoral dialogue sacred to the memory of a lady who died 29 Dec. 1753, aged 25. His Practical Essay on the Use and Abuse of warm Bathing in Gouty Cases came out in 1751, passed into a second edition in 1751, and into a third in 1764.

Philip Thicknesse inserted some remarks on this essay in his Valetudinarian’s Bath Guide, (1780, pp. 30–36). Oliver was also the anonymous author of A Faint Sketch of the Life, Character, and Manners of the late Mr. Nash, which was printed at Bath for John Keene, and sold at 3d. It was praised by Oliver Goldsmith as ‘written with much good sense and still more good nature,’ and it was embodied in Goldsmith’s Life of Beau Nash. It also appeared in the Public Ledger of 12 March 1761, and in the Rev. Richard Warner’s History of Bath, (pp. 370–1).To the Philosophical Transactions for 1723 and 1755 respectively he contributed brief papers on medical topics, the former being addressed to Dr. Richard Mead.

Oliver wrote some elegiac lines on the death of Ralph Thicknesse; he was standing at Thicknesse’s elbow at the moment that Thicknesse fell dead as he was playing the first fiddle in a performance of a piece of his own composition at a concert in Bath. His lines to Sir John Cope ‘upon his catching Sir Anthony’s fire by drinking Bath waters,’ are in Mrs. Stopford Sackville’s manuscripts.

Oliver applied to Dr. Borlase for minerals for Pope’s grotto, and his name frequently occurs in the letters of Pope and Borlase at Castle Horneck, near Penzance. A letter to Oliver from Pope, dated 8 October 1740, and the property of Henry George Bohn, was inserted with the first draft of the reply in Carruthers’s Life of Pope.  Several other letters were formerly in the possession of Upcott. One, dated 28 August 1743, is printed in Roscoe’s Works of Pope, (i. 541–2), and it was reprinted with two others which were taken from the European Magazine, (1791, pt. ii. p. 409, and 1792, pt. i. p. 6, in Courthope’s edition, x. 242–5).

In the summer of 1743 Oliver wrote to Pope to free himself from all knowledge of John Tillard’s attack on William Warburton, which was dedicated to him without his knowledge (Works, ed. Courthope, ix. 233). Two letters from Warburton to Oliver are in Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes, (v. 581–582), and several communications from him to Doddridge from 1743 to 1749 are contained in the latter’s Correspondence, (v. 223–225, 302–4, v. 66–7, 126–9).

Three letters from Stephen Duck to him are printed in the European Magazine, (1795, pt. i. p. 80 and pt. ii. p. 79). He bestowed many favours on Duck, and was, no doubt, the polite son of Æsculapius depicted in that author’s Journey to Marlborough, Bath, &c. (Works, 1753, p. 75).

A letter from Oliver to Dr. Ward on two Roman altars discovered at Bath is in the British Museum, (Addit. MS. 6181, f. 63), and three more letters referring to some dirty and miserly old acquaintance of Jacob Tonson at Bath in 1735, are in Addit. MS. 28275, fols. 356–61.

Some manuscript letters to James Jurin belong to the Royal Society.

Benjamin Heath dedicated to him in 1740 The Essay towards a demonstrative Proof of the Divine Existence; plate 18 in the Antiquities of Cornwall was engraved at his expense and inscribed to him by Dr. Borlase; and the later impressions of Mary Chandler’s ‘Description of Bath’ contained (pp. 21–3) some verses to him acknowledging that he had corrected her poem, and that ‘ev’n Pope approv’d when you had tun’d my Lyre.’

Posted on

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, by Quinçon

“She possessed the pure Grecian contour; her head was exquisitely formed, her forehead fair and shapely, her eyes large and dark, with an expression of tenderness that did not belong to her character; and the delicate loveliness of her mouth and chin, the soft bloom of her complexion, together with her beautifully rounded shoulders and tapering arms, combined to form one of the loveliest of women.”
-quote about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, by an unknown admirer

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was born Baltimore, Maryland,  February 6 1785, the eldest of 13 children .  Known as “Betsy”,  she was the daughter of a Baltimore, Maryland merchant, the first wife of Jérôme Bonaparte, and sister-in-law of Emperor Napoleon I of France.

Elizabeth’s father, William Patterson, had been born in Ireland and came to North America prior to the American Revolutionary War. He was a Catholic, and the wealthiest man in Maryland after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth’s brother, Robert, married Carroll’s granddaughter, Marianne Caton (but more on her later…)

How they met is a mystery,  but Elizabeth and Jérôme Bonaparte (at the time 18 and 20, respectively) were married on December 24, 1803, at a ceremony presided over by John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore. Betsy quickly became known for her “risqué” taste in fashion, starting with her wedding dress.

Elizabeth Patterson's Wedding Dress, described as a dress so small that it “would fit easily into a gentleman’s pocket.” Image courtesy of MET

Jérôme’s brother Napoleon ordered him back to France and demanded that the marriage be annulled. Jérôme ignored Napoleon’s initial demand that he return to France without his wife. When Napoleon threatened to imprison him, Elizabeth’s brother rushed to France to intervene, but nothing would change the mind of the French dictator who had far grander plans for his brother than some American socialite.

When James Madison and even Tallyrand could do nothing about the situation, Jérôme and a pregnant Betsy attempted to travel to France. It was the fall of 1804 and they hoped to arrive in time for Napoleon’s coronation, but a number of false starts delayed them. When they finally arrived, Elizabeth was denied permission to set foot in continental Europe by order of Napoleon. Jérôme traveled to Italy in an attempt to reason with his brother, writing to his wife,

“My good wife, have faith in your husband. The worst that could happen now would be for us to have to live quietly in some foreing country….My dearest Elisa, I will do everything that must be done.”

After remaining in limbo, unable to disembark in either France or the Netherlands, Betsy made her way to England, where she gave birth to a son on July 7, 1805, at 95 Camberwell Grove, Camberwell, London.

She would never see her husband again. Jérôme, threatened with loss of rank and title, and being forced to account for his staggering debt, gave in to his brother, returned to the French Navy, and was created 1st Prince of Montfort and King of Westphalia, which he ruled from 1807 until 1813. The Pope had refused to allow a divorce or annul his marriage to Elizabeth, but that did not stop Napoleon– the man who crowned himself emperor–from dissolving it himself, and forcing his young brother to marry a German princess Catharina of Württemberg.

Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia and Queen Catharina

Once king of Westphalia, his lavish lifestyle and constant philandering brought censure and as Napoleon’s hold on the empire fragmented, Jérôme’s fortunes fell as well. Eventually, he had two more children with his German wife, before marrying an Italian widow. His final placement came as governor of Les Invalides, Paris, the burial place of his lauded brother.

As King of Westphalia, Jérôme offered Elizabeth a home within his dominions, with the title of Princess of Smalcalden and a pension of two hundred thousand francs per year. In regard to the former, she replied that Westphalia was a large kingdom, but not quite large enough for two queens, and with regard to the pension, having already accepted Napoleon’s annuity of sixty thousand francs, she made the oft-quoted response that she preferred “being sheltered under the wing of an eagle to being suspended from the bill of a goose.” Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century, Virginia Tatnall Peacock, K. B. Lippincott Company, 1901

Betsy returned to Baltimore with her son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, called “Bo” by his mother, and lived with her father while she continued to flaunt her royal connection and skimpy attire. After the Battle of Waterloo, she returned to Europe, She styled herself “Madame Bonaparte”. Here, she was well received in the most exclusive circles and much admired for her beauty and wit.

In 1815, by special Act of the Legislature of Maryland, she at last secured a divorce. Her last years were spent in Baltimore in the management of her estate, the value of which she increased to $1.5 million. Betsy died in the midst of a court battle over whether the state of Maryland could tax her out of state bonds. The case reached the Supreme Court (Bonaparte v. Tax Court, 104 U.S. 592) where the Court decided in favor of Maryland.  She is buried in the Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Her grandson, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, served as United States Secretary of the Navy and United States Attorney General. He founded the precursor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908.

Marianne Caton and Richard Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, at Dublin Castle, 1826.

Ironically, Betsy’s brother’s widow, Marianne (Caton) Patterson, married Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, older brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The Caton sisters, born to the wealthiest man in Maryland (and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, who built what he claimed was “the most English house in America” ) were social climbers in the extreme. Of this six marriages made by the four sisters (Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily) three of them were to titled English nobility. Like the Irish Lennox sisters, a generation before, these heiresses, to quote a Carroll cousin, had the privilege ,  “[Had] the liberty of refusing those we don’t like, but not of selecting those we do.” Obviously, they, like so many American heiresses to come, liked titles and land, however entailed the estate might be.

That two women, so closely related to an orchestrator of the American Revolution should marry a Bonaparte and a Wellesley– that their respective brothers-in-law should be arch enemies and international heroes, seems beyond believing , but as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction”. The stories of these amazing ladies have been told both in print and on film. Biographies include, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic and  Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad.   The story of Elizabeth and Jérôme’s marriage and annulment is the basis for the 1908 play Glorious Betsy by Rida Johnson Young and the two film adaptations, Glorious Betsy (1928) and Hearts Divided (1936). She was portrayed by Dolores Costello in the former and by Marion Davies in the latter. The episode “Duty” of the Hornblower television series features Elizabeth and Jérôme trying to land in France and the diplomatic difficulties.



Information from:


Posted on

Elizabeth Fry: Prison Reformer

“Oh! no, no, (exclaimed Sophia) I cannot go to Newgate; I shall not be able to support the sight of my Augustus in so cruel a confinement — my feelings are sufficiently shocked by the recital of his Distress, but to behold it will overpower my Sensibility.”
Jane Austen, Love and Freindship

Elizabeth (Betsy) Fry (21 May 1780 – 12 October 1845), née Gurney, was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist. She has sometimes been referred to as the “angel of prisons”.

Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by the reigning monarch. Since 2001, she has been depicted on the Bank of England £5 note.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Gurney was born in Gurney Court, off Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk, England to a Quaker family. Her family home as a child was Earlham Hall, which is now part of the University of East Anglia.Her father, John Gurney, was a partner in Gurney’s bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a part of the Barclay family, who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was only twelve years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family, Elizabeth was partly responsible for the care and training of the younger children, including her brother Joseph John Gurney, a philanthropist. One of her sisters was Louisa Gurney Hoare (1784–1836), a writer on education.

At the age of 18, young Elizabeth was deeply moved by the preaching of William Savery, an American Quaker. Motivated by his words, she took an interest in the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. She collected old clothes for the poor, visited those who were sick in her neighbourhood, and started a Sunday school in the summer house to teach children to read.

She met Joseph Fry (1777–1861), a banker and also a Quaker, when she was twenty years old. They married on 19 August 1800 at the Norwich Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred’s Court in the City of London. Elizabeth Fry was recorded as a Minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811.

Joseph and Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829, then moved to Upton Lane in Forest Gate. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters.

Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. They did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept on straw. Elizabeth Fry wrote in the book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England that she actually stayed the nights in some of the prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves.

She returned the following day with food and clothes for some of the prisoners. She was unable to further her work for nearly four years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties in the Fry bank. Fry returned in 1816 and was eventually able to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and required the women to sew and to read the Bible. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This led to the eventual creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, widely described by biographers and historians as constituting the first “nationwide” women’s organization in Britain.

Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry’s brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a “nightly shelter” in London after seeing the body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated in other districts and towns across Britain.

After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry’s brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him her work went on and expanded.

In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her programme inspired Florence Nightingale, who took a team of Fry’s nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

Fry became well known in society. Some people criticized her for having such an influential role as a woman. Others alleged that she was neglecting her duties as a wife and mother in order to conduct her humanitarian work. One admirer was Queen Victoria, who granted her an audience a few times and contributed money to her cause. Another admirer was Robert Peel who passed several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823 (unfortunately this act did not have much enforcement as most laws of this kind were at the time)

Following her death in 1845, a meeting chaired by the Lord Mayor of London, resolved that it would be fitting “to found an asylum to perpetuate the memory of Mrs Fry and further the benevolent objects to which her life had been devoted.”  A fine 18th century town house was purchased at 195 Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Elizabeth Fry refuge opened its doors in 1849. Funding came via subscriptions from various city companies and private individuals, supplemented by income from the inmates’ laundry and needlework. Such training was an important part of the refuge’s work. In 1924, the refuge merged with the Manor House Refuge for the Destitute, in Dalston in Hackney, becoming a hostel for girls on probation for minor offences. The hostel soon moved to larger premises in Highbury, Islington and then, in 1958, to Reading, where it remains today.

The Statue of Elizabeth Fry at the Old Bailey

Elizabeth Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on 12 October 1845. Her remains were buried in the Friends’ burial ground at Barking. On this occasion, the Seamen of the Ramsgate Coast Guard flew their flag at half mast in respect of Mrs Fry; a practice reserved officially for the death of a ruling monarch.More than a thousand people stood in silence during the burial.

___________________Historical information from
Posted on

Spencer Perceval: One of Britain’s forgotten Prime-Ministers

spencer perceval

Spencer Perceval: One of Britain’s forgotten Prime-Ministers

Although Jane Austen does not mention it in her published letters, indeed she rarely mentions politics or current events…she lived through one of the most shocking events in the history of the House of Commons when, in 1812, the Prime Minister was assassinated in the very lobby of the house. Spencer Perceval, though not particularly beloved before his murder, gained estimation after his death as the only Prime Minister ever to be killed in office. No doubt everyone was talking of it at the time.

Spencer Perceval, KC (1 November 1762 – 11 May 1812) was a British statesman and First Lord of the Treasury, making him de facto Prime Minister. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. He is the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to have been Prime Minister. The younger son of an Irish earl, Perceval was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. He studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, practised as a barrister on the Midland Circuit and became a King’s Counsel, before entering politics at the age of 33 as a Member of Parliament for Northampton. A follower of William Pitt, Perceval always described himself as a “friend of Mr Pitt” rather than a Tory. Perceval was opposed to Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament; he supported the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the slave trade. He was opposed to hunting, gambling and adultery, did not drink as much as most Members of Parliament, gave generously to charity, and enjoyed spending time with his twelve children.

After a late entry into politics his rise to power was rapid; he was Solicitor and then Attorney General in the Addington Ministry, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons in the Portland Ministry, and became Prime Minister in October 1809. At the head of a weak ministry, Perceval faced a number of crises during his term in office including an inquiry into the disastrous Walcheren expedition, the madness of King George III, economic depression and Luddite riots. He survived these crises, successfully pursued the Peninsular War in the face of opposition defeatism, and won the support of the Prince Regent. His position was looking stronger by the spring of 1812, when a man with a grievance against the Government shot him dead in the lobby of the House of Commons.

Although Perceval was a seventh son and had four older brothers who survived to adulthood, the Earldom of Egmont reverted to one of his great-grandsons in the early 20th century and remains in the hands of his descendants.

Childhood and Education

Spencer Perceval was the seventh son of John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont; he was the second son of the earl’s second marriage. His mother, Catherine Compton, Baroness Arden, was a grand-daughter of the 4th Earl of Northampton. Spencer was a Compton family name; Catherine Compton’s great uncle Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington, had been Prime Minister.

His father, a political advisor to Frederick, Prince of Wales and King George III, served briefly in the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty and Perceval’s early childhood was spent at Charlton House, which his father had taken to be near Woolwich docks.

Perceval’s father died when he was eight. Perceval went to Harrow, where he was a disciplined and hard-working pupil. It was at Harrow that he developed an interest in evangelical Anglicanism and formed what was to be a life-long friendship with Dudley Ryder. After five years at Harrow he followed his older brother Charles to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won the declamation prize in English and graduated in 1782.

Legal Career and Marriage

As the second son of a second marriage, and with an allowance of only £200 a year, Perceval faced the prospect of having to make his own way in life. He chose the law as a profession, studied at Lincoln’s Inn, and was called to the bar in 1786. Perceval’s mother had died in 1783, and Perceval and his brother Charles, now Lord Arden, rented a house in Charlton, where they fell in love with two sisters who were living in the Percevals’ old childhood home. The sisters’ father, Sir Thomas Spencer Wilson, approved of the match between his eldest daughter Margaretta and Lord Arden, who was wealthy and already a Member of Parliament and a Lord of the Admiralty. Perceval, who was at that time an impecunious barrister on the Midland Circuit, was told to wait until younger daughter Jane came of age in three years’ time. When Jane reached 21 in 1790 Perceval’s career was still not prospering, and Sir Thomas still opposed the marriage. So the couple eloped and married by special license in East Grinstead. They set up home together in lodgings over a carpet shop in Bedford Row, later moving to Lindsey House, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Perceval’s family connections obtained a number of positions for him: Deputy Recorder of Northampton, and Commissioner of Bankrupts in 1790; Surveyor of the Maltings and Clerk of the Irons in the Mint — a sinecure worth £119 a year – in 1791; counsel to the Board of Admiralty in 1794. He acted as junior counsel for the Crown in the prosecutions of Thomas Paine in absentia for seditious libel (1792), and John Horne Tooke for high treason (1794). Perceval joined the Light Horse Volunteers in 1794 when the country was under threat of invasion by France.

Perceval wrote anonymous pamphlets in favour of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, and in defence of public order against sedition. These pamphlets brought him to the attention of William Pitt and in 1795 he was offered the appointment of Chief Secretary for Ireland. He declined the offer. He could earn more as a barrister and needed the money to support his growing family. In 1796 he became a King’s Counsel and had an income of about £1000 a year.

Early political career 1796–1801

In 1796 Perceval’s uncle, the 8th Earl of Northampton, died. Perceval’s cousin, who was MP for Northampton, succeeded to the Earldom and took his place in the House of Lords. Perceval was invited to stand for election in his place. In the May by-election he was elected unopposed, but weeks later had to defend his seat in a fiercely contested general election. Northampton had an electorate of about one thousand — every male householder not in receipt of poor relief had a vote — and the town had a strong radical tradition. Perceval stood for the Castle Ashby interest, Edward Bouverie for the Whigs, and William Walcot for the corporation. After a disputed count Perceval and Bouverie were returned. Perceval represented Northampton until his death 16 years later, and is the only MP for Northampton to have held the office of Prime Minister. 1796 was his first and last contested election; in the general elections of 1802, 1806 and 1807 Perceval and Bouverie were returned unopposed.

When Perceval took his seat in the House of Commons in September 1796 his political views were already formed. “He was for the constitution and Pitt; he was against Fox and France”, wrote his biographer Denis Gray. During the 1796–1797 session he made several speeches, always reading from notes. His public speaking skills had been sharpened at the Crown and Rolls debating society when he was a law student. After taking his seat in the House of Commons, Perceval continued with his legal practice as MPs did not receive a salary, and the House only sat for a part of the year. During the Parliamentary recess of the summer of 1797 he was senior counsel for the Crown in the prosecution of John Binns for sedition. Binns, who was defended by Samuel Romilly, was found not guilty. The fees from his legal practice allowed Perceval to take out a lease on a country house, Belsize House in Hampstead.

It was during the next session of Parliament, in January 1798, that Perceval established his reputation as a debater — and his prospects as a future minister — with a speech in support of the Assessed Taxes Bill (a bill to increase the taxes on houses, windows, male servants, horses and carriages, in order to finance the war against France). He used the occasion to mount an attack on Charles Fox and his demands for reform. Pitt described the speech as one of the best he had ever heard, and later that year Perceval was given the post of Solicitor to the Ordnance.

Solicitor and Attorney General 1801–1806

Pitt resigned in 1801 when the King and Cabinet opposed his bill for Catholic emancipation. As Perceval shared the King’s views on Catholic emancipation he did not feel obliged to follow Pitt into opposition and his career continued to prosper during Henry Addington’s administration. He was appointed Solicitor General in 1801 and Attorney General the following year. Perceval did not agree with Addington’s general policies (especially on foreign policy), and confined himself to speeches on legal issues. He kept the position of Attorney General when Addington resigned and Pitt formed his second ministry in 1804. As Attorney General Perceval was involved with the prosecution of radicals Edward Despard and William Cobbett, but was also responsible for more liberal decisions on trade unions, and for improving the conditions of convicts transported to New South Wales.

Pitt died in January 1806. Perceval was an emblem bearer at his funeral and, although he had little money to spare (by now he had eleven children), he contributed £1000 towards a fund to pay off Pitt’s debts. He resigned as Attorney General, refusing to serve in Lord Grenville’s ministry of “All the Talents” as it included Fox. Instead he became the leader of the Pittite opposition in the House of Commons.

During his period in opposition, Perceval’s legal skills were put to use to defend Princess Caroline, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales, during the “delicate investigation”. The Princess had been accused of giving birth to an illegitimate child and the Prince of Wales ordered an inquiry, hoping to obtain evidence for a divorce. The Government inquiry found that the main accusation was untrue (the child in question had been adopted by the princess) but was critical of the behaviour of the princess. The opposition sprang to her defence and Perceval became her advisor, drafting a 156-page letter in her support to King George III. Known as “The Book”, it was described by Perceval’s biographer as “the last and greatest production of his legal career”. When the King refused to let Caroline return to court, Perceval threatened publication of the book. But Grenville’s ministry fell – again over a difference of opinion with the King on the Catholic question – before the book could be distributed and, as a member of the new Government, Perceval drafted a cabinet minute acquitting Caroline on all charges and recommending her return to court. He had a bonfire of the book at Lindsey House and large sums of Government money were spent on buying back stray copies, but a few remained at large and “The Book” was published soon after his death.

Chancellor of the Exchequer 1807–1809

On the resignation of Grenville, the Duke of Portland put together a ministry of Pittites and asked Perceval to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Perceval would have preferred to remain Attorney General or become Home Secretary, and pleaded ignorance of financial affairs. He agreed to take the position when the salary (smaller than that of the Home Office) was augmented by the Duchy of Lancaster. Lord Hawkesbury (later Liverpool) recommended him to the king by explaining that he came from an old English family and shared the king’s views on the Catholic question.

Perceval’s youngest child, Ernest Augustus,was born soon after Perceval became Chancellor (Princess Caroline was godmother). Jane Perceval became ill after the birth and the family moved out of the damp and draughty Belsize House, spending a few months in Lord Teignmouth’s house in Clapham before finding a suitable country house in Ealing. Elm Grove was a 16th-century house that had been the home of the Bishop of Durham; Perceval paid £7,500 for it in 1808 (borrowing from his brother Lord Arden and the trustees of Jane’s dowry) and the Perceval family’s long association with Ealing began. Meanwhile, in town, Perceval had moved from Lindsey House into 10 Downing Street, when the Duke of Portland moved back to Burlington House shortly after becoming Prime Minister.

One of Perceval’s first tasks in Cabinet was to expand the Orders in Council that had been brought in by the previous administration and were designed to restrict the trade of neutral countries with France, in retaliation to Napoleon’s embargo on British trade. He was also responsible for ensuring that Wilberforce’s Bill on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which had still not passed its final stages in the House of Lords when Grenville’s ministry fell, would not “fall between the two ministries” and be rejected in a snap division. Perceval was one of the founding members of the African Institute, which was set up in April 1807 to safeguard the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer Perceval had to raise money to finance the war against Napoleon. This he managed to do in his budgets of 1808 and 1809 without increasing taxes, by raising loans at reasonable rates and making economies. As leader of the House of Commons he had to deal with a strong opposition, which challenged the government over the conduct of the war, Catholic emancipation, corruption and Parliamentary reform. Perceval successfully defended the Commander-in-Chief of the army, the Duke of York, against charges of corruption when the Duke’s ex-mistress Mary Anne Clarke claimed to have sold army commissions with his knowledge. Although Parliament voted to acquit the Duke of the main charge, his conduct was criticised and he accepted Perceval’s advice to resign. (He was to be re-instated in 1811).

Portland’s ministry contained three future prime-ministers – Perceval, Lord Hawkesbury and George Canning – as well as another two of the 19th-century’s great statesmen: Lord Eldon and Lord Castlereagh. But Portland was not a strong leader and his health was failing. The country was plunged into political crisis in the summer of 1809 as Canning schemed against Castlereagh and the Duke of Portland resigned following a stroke. Negotiations began to find a new Prime Minister: Canning wanted to be Prime Minister or nothing, Perceval was prepared to serve under a third person, but not Canning. The remnants of the cabinet decided to invite Lord Grey and Lord Grenville to form “an extended and combined administration” in which Perceval was hoping for the Home Secretaryship. But Grenville and Grey refused to enter into negotiations, and the king accepted the Cabinet’s recommendation of Perceval for his new Prime Minister. Perceval kissed the king’s hands on 4 October and set about forming his Cabinet, a task made more difficult by the fact that Castlereagh and Canning had ruled themselves out of consideration by fighting a duel (which Perceval had tried to prevent). Having received five refusals for the office, he had to serve as his own Chancellor of the Exchequer – characteristically declining to accept the salary.

Prime minister 1809–1812

The new ministry was not expected to last. It was especially weak in the Commons, where Perceval had only one cabinet member – Home Secretary Richard Ryder – and had to rely on the support of backbenchers in debate. In the first week of the new Parliamentary session in January 1810 the Government lost four divisions, one on a motion for an inquiry into the disastrous Walcheren expedition (in which, the previous summer, a military force intending to seize Antwerp had instead withdrawn after losing many men to an epidemic on the island of Walcheren) and three on the composition of the finance committee. The Government survived the inquiry into the Walcheren expedition at the cost of the resignation of the expedition’s leader Lord Chatham. The radical MP Sir Francis Burdett was committed to the Tower of London for having published a letter in William Cobbett’s Political Register denouncing the government’s exclusion of the press from the inquiry. It took three days, owing to various blunders, to execute the warrant for Burdett’s arrest. The mob took to the streets in support of Burdett, troops were called out, and there were fatal casualties. As chancellor, Perceval continued to find the funds to finance Wellington’s campaign in the Iberian Peninsula, whilst contracting a lower debt than his predecessors or successors.

King George III had celebrated his 50th jubilee in 1809; by the following autumn he was showing signs of a return of the derangement that had led to a Regency in 1788. The prospect of another Regency was not attractive to Perceval, as the prince of Wales was known to favour Whigs and disliked Perceval for the part he had played in the “delicate investigation”. Twice parliament was adjourned in November 1810, as doctors gave optimistic reports about the king’s chances of a return to health. In December select committees of the Lords and Commons heard evidence from the doctors, and Perceval finally wrote to the Prince of Wales on 19 December saying that he planned the next day to introduce a Regency Bill. As with Pitt’s bill in 1788, there would be restrictions: the Regent’s powers to create peers and award offices and pensions would be restricted for 12 months, the Queen would be responsible for the care of the king, and the king’s private property would be looked after by trustees.

The Prince of Wales, supported by the opposition, objected to the restrictions, but Perceval steered the bill through Parliament. Everyone had expected the Regent to change his ministers but, surprisingly, he chose to retain his old enemy Perceval. The official reason given by the Regent was that he did not wish to do anything to aggravate his father’s illness. The King signed the Regency Bill on 5 February, the Regent took the royal oath the following day and Parliament formally opened for the 1811 session. The session was largely taken up with problems in Ireland, economic depression and the bullion controversy in England (a Bill was passed to make bank notes legal tender), and military operations in the Peninsula.

The restrictions on the Regency expired in February 1812, the King was still showing no signs of recovery, and the Prince Regent decided, after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Grey and Grenville to join the government, to retain Perceval and his ministers. Wellesley, after intrigues with the Prince Regent, resigned as Foreign Secretary and was replaced by Castlereagh. The opposition meanwhile was mounting an attack on the Orders in Council, which had caused a crisis in relations with America and were widely blamed for depression and unemployment in England. Rioting had broken out in the Midlands and North, and been harshly repressed. Henry Brougham’s motion for a select committee was defeated in the commons, but, under continuing pressure from manufacturers, the government agreed to set up a committee of the whole house to consider the Orders in Council and their impact on trade and manufacture. The committee began its examination of witnesses in early May 1812.


At 5:15 on the evening of 11 May 1812, Perceval was on his way to attend the inquiry into the Orders in Council. As he entered the lobby of the House of Commons, a man stepped forward, drew a pistol and shot him in the chest. Perceval fell to the floor, after uttering something that was variously heard as “murder” or “oh my God”. They were his last words. By the time he had been carried into an adjoining room and propped up on a table with his feet on two chairs, he was senseless, although there was still a faint pulse. When a surgeon arrived a few minutes later, the pulse had stopped, and Perceval was declared dead.

At first it was feared that the shot might signal the start of an uprising, but it soon became apparent that the assassin – who had made no attempt to escape – was a man with an obsessive grievance against the Government and had acted alone. John Bellingham was a merchant who had been unjustly imprisoned in Russia and felt he was entitled to compensation from the Government, but all his petitions had been rejected. Perceval’s body was laid on a sofa in the speaker’s drawing room and removed to Number 10 Downing Street in the early hours of 12 May. That same morning an inquest was held at the Cat and Bagpipes public house on the corner of Downing Street and verdict of wilful murder was returned.

Perceval left a widow and twelve children aged between three and twenty, and there were soon rumours that he had not left them well-provided for. He had just £106 5s 1d in the bank when he died. A few days after his death, Parliament voted to settle £50,000 on Perceval’s children, with additional annuities for his widow and eldest son. Jane Perceval married Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Carr in 1815 and was widowed again six years later. She died aged 74 in 1844.

Perceval was buried on 16 May in the Egmont vault at Charlton. At his widow’s request, it was a private funeral. Lords Eldon, Liverpool, and Harrowby, and Richard Ryder, were pall-bearers. The previous day, Bellingham had been tried, and, refusing to enter a plea of insanity, was found guilty. He was hanged on 18 May.


Perceval was a small, slight, and very pale man, who usually dressed in black. Lord Eldon called him “Little P”. He never sat for a full-sized portrait; likenesses are either miniatures or are based on a death mask by Joseph Nollekens. He is sometimes referred to as one of Britain’s forgotten prime-ministers, remembered only for the manner of his death. Although not considered an inspirational leader, he is generally seen as a devout, industrious, principled man who at the head of a weak government steered the country through difficult times. A contemporary MP Henry Grattan, used a naval analogy to describe Perceval: “He is not a ship-of-the-line, but he carries many guns, is tight-built and is out in all weathers”. Perceval’s modern biographer, Denis Gray, described him as “a herald of the Victorians”. The perception that Perceval was uninspiring did not dim his personal appeal, however, as Landsman notes: “Percival [sic] was an exceedingly popular leader. The judge in the case literally wept as he made his closing remarks to the jury.”

Public monuments to Perceval were erected in Northampton, Lincoln’s Inn and Westminster Abbey. Four biographies about Perceval have been published: a book on his life and administration by Charles Verulam Williams appeared soon after his death; his grandson Spencer Walpole’s biography in 1894; Philip Treherne’s short biography in 1909; Denis Gray’s 500-page political biography in 1963. In addition there are two books about his assassination, one by Mollie Gillen and one by David Hanrahan. Perceval’s assassination inspired poems such as Universal sympathy on the martyr’d statesman (1812):

Such was his private, such his public life,
That all who differ’d in polemic strife,
Or varied in opinion with his plan,
Agreed with one accord to love the man.

One of Perceval’s most noted critics, especially on the question of Catholic emancipation, was the cleric Sydney Smith. In Peter Plymley’s Letters Smith writes:

If I lived at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of my own begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed; if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort– how awfully would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland!

American historian Henry Adams suggested that it was this picture of Perceval that stayed in the minds of Liberals for a whole generation