Turtles to Roehampton (and the Crisis of 1772)

The maintenance of friendships, alliances, and business relationships across the vast Atlantic occasionally saw Macintosh sending gifts to his correspondents. On 20 March 1772, Macintosh wrote to his friend Alexander Fordyce to say that he was sending him “a small family Turtle” and, for his wife (Lady Margaret Lindsay, whom Fordyce had married two years earlier), a few yards of “India Gauze”. Although Macintosh reckoned the fabric “may not be qualified for use in London”, he felt sure that “she at Roehampton may grace it”.

Portrait miniature of Lady Margaret Janet Fordyce (1753–1814), by Anne Mee (née Foldsone), undated.

At that point, Fordyce and Lady Margaret were perhaps Macintosh’s highest-status correspondents; Fordyce had carved out a successful career in banking and his speculations on East India Company stock had netted him a fortune, enabling the purchase of the Roehampton Park estate to the west of London.

What Macintosh could not know was that Fordyce’s success was built on sand. From 1771 Fordyce had begun to accrue losses which he concealed from his partners. By the middle of 1772, Fordyce’s losses could no longer be hidden and, on 10 June, he absconded to France, precipitating the collapse of the bank. A domino effect was triggered, resulting in the failure of a score of banks and a liquidity crisis that significantly affected Britain and other parts of Europe. In triggering the Crisis of 1772, Fordyce was the Nick Leeson cum Fred Goodwin of his day.

“A [four dice] Macaroni. Gambler”, Matthew Darly, 2 July 1772. British Museum 1915,0313.151.

In addition to becoming a subject for satire (as in the print above), Fordyce was a lightning rod for public anger. The global geopolitical consequences of Fordyce’s actions have long been debated, but it is clear that they had a direct impact on Macintosh when lines of credit dried up and he was unable to turn his Caribbean investments into a profit. The 1772 crisis marked the beginning of the end of Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean; his world, and the world in general, was beginning to tilt on its axis.

What became of the turtle is, of course, a mystery.

Travelling in style

I have written before about Macintosh’s desire to travel in comfort whilst at sea and this trait is exemplified in a long shopping list Macintosh sent to his friend Anthony Richardson on 1 March 1772. “Friendship”, Mackintosh noted, “is pleasing, but it exposes one to trouble”. This was, indeed, true for Richardson who was required, at Macintosh’s behest, to hunt down a wide range of goods: everything from “2 Guernsey Shirts, the largest sizes from Waller hosier, nearly opposite to St. Katherine Street” to “a Machine for examining the Qualities of Soil, without the labour of digging up it will penetrate into the Earth & when taken out may be opened, & each Strata of Mold is discovered within the Machine”. Macintosh’s request for a travelling case is, however, particularly interesting for what it reveals about his personal preferences and quotidian activities (especially as they relate to eating and drinking).

To bring him out, a neat & strong Travelling Case, on which Mr. R must prove his fancy, to contain a sizeable Tea Pot, a small Coffee Pot, A Milk Pot, 6 ½ Pint Cups and Saucers, 2 Pint Basons & Saucers, 6 Shallow, & 6 Soap Plates, 3 small Dishes, all of China; A Tea Bottle with a wide Mouth, a Sugar Bottle with Do., 6 pint decanters, engraved one for Syrop [sic], two for Liquor, two for Madeira & one for Claret, a Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper & oil Cruets engraved also, all with ground Stoppers; A Salt Seller contrived with a Top to preserve the Salt at Sea; 6 neat short Wine Glasses & 1 Do. wine & water Glasses, 6 Table & Tea spoons, with his Crest engraved on them; 6 Ivory handled Knives and Forks; a Pint Bottle for Bitters, with a ground Stopper, & Bitters engraved on it; several spare appartments [sic] for Towels, Medicines & fishing apparatus; two razors, & shaving utensils Combs, if a neat small Tureen of any figure could be stow’d away in it, it would be pleasing, and in that case a small Tureen silver Ladle. A small drawer to contain Ink, Sand, Wafers, Pens, and a quire of 4t Paper.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Anthony Richardson, 1 March 1772, fo. 233

Slow and steady

Screenshot showing the transcription of one of William Macintosh's letters.

In the last week or so the normal torrent of work-related emails has eased sufficiently (famous last words) for me to join Team Macintosh 3.0 (aka my dad, Alex) in transcribing William Macintosh’s Caribbean letter book. Of the 498 pages in the book, we are now well past the half-way point, with 204 pages left to transcribe. Among much else, these letters offer a unique insight into Macintosh’s political apprenticeship in the Caribbean and show how his ideas about the management of empire and the nature of subjecthood were shaped.

One letter—sent to a fellow Grenadian planter, Thomas Proudfoot, on 16 November 1771—is typical in this respect. It describes Macintosh’s meeting with William Leybourne (1744—1775), the Island’s newly appointed Governor. Leybourne had been appointed to replace Robert Melvill (1723–1809) with whom Macintosh had clashed over the rights of the island’s French Catholics. Ultimately Leybourne would prove no more successful than Melvill in his attempts to ensure the effective governance of Grenada, but it is evident that Macintosh was cautiously optimistic at this stage about Leybourne’s arrival, not least because it irritated Melvill’s supporters. Read from the perspective of 2020, it would seem that Leybourne was, in his demeanour and behaviour, practised in the art of social distancing:

Governor Leybourne arrived about a fortnight ago, carries very great state, has Levee days, & shakes no hands; but he prudently keeps all at an equal distance, and is very prudently reserved. I have made my Bow, did not exchange two words with him, nor am I ambitious of a nearer intimacy[.] The Melvillians are staggering by reason of his absolute Powers over his Council, and the indispensable power of Indulgence to the R[oman]. C[atholic]. Subjects, but they threaten violently[.] I shall be steady untill the return of my friends, and then adieu Politics.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Thomas Proudfoot, 16 November 1771, fo. 217

Revealing as these letters are about Macintosh’s political awakening, they are equally (if much less palatably) illuminating about his status as a slaveholder. I have long grappled with the difficultly such material presents but this issue has, very obviously, been thrown into sharper relief by recent debates about the legacies of British slavery. Although Macintosh was, by contemporary standards, somewhat egalitarian, this characteristic certainly did not stretch to include the Black Africans on whose enslaved labour he depended. This is not something I will ignore and, indeed, is vitally important when it comes to understanding how Macintosh’s ideas about individual rights fell, more often than not, along lines of racial prejudice.

It is worth mentioning, of course, that Macintosh’s letters occasionally deal with more quotidian and less contentious matters and that he possessed a rather dry sense of humour, as is evidenced in this account of a near-death experience:

I had like to have kicked the Bucket the day before yesterday by a mistake in making Creme Tarter Whey; instead of that Drug they put about 150 Grains in of Tartar Emetic into it, my Salvation was miraculous, without any Assistance than a hot Bath to soften the pangs of the Cramp & Convulsions.—

Bibliothèque municipale d’Avignon, MS.1297, Macintosh to Thomas Proudfoot, 16 November 1771, fo. 217

Introducing Team Macintosh 3.0

Alex Keighren transcribing correspondence from Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook.

In 2016 and 2017, I was fortunate to have the assistance of four undergraduate students—Ophelia King and Lauren Muir (Team Macintosh) and Rhys Gazeres de Baradieux and Samuel Thatcher (Team Macintosh 2.0)—in the transcription of archival material I had photographed during research visits to Avignon. So extensive is Macintosh’s correspondence, however, that several hundred letters have remained untranscribed.

I am especially grateful, therefore, that my dad, Alex, has kindly volunteered his assistance with the transcription effort whilst he is confined to home during the current lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen thousands of people turn to crowd-sourced transcription projects in an effort to find a productive distraction during a time of uncertainty and disruption.

My dad will gradually be working his way through Macintosh’s Caribbean letterbook, which covers the period between 1763 and 1772 when Macintosh was active in Grenada, Dominica, and Tobago and beginning to form his political views on the management of empire.

Eighth time lucky

Last Saturday marked the eighth birthday of On the archival trail of William Macintosh. So many things have changed since I began documenting my work on Macintosh that it feels like I’ve been chipping away at this project for much, much longer. The work has always been a pleasure, and is a constant source of fascination, but it has often been frustrating not to be able to carve out the concentrated time that the project really deserves.

I was, therefore, delighted to learn last week that my application to the Leverhulme Trust for a Research Fellowship had been approved. After seven failed attempts to secure grants from a range of funding bodies to support my work on Macintosh, this news came as both a wonderful surprise and a huge relief. The Fellowship will allow me to focus on the Macintosh project full time for a year from 1 September 2020. I hope in that time to make very substantial progress on the book I have long planned.

To have received this news in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—when so much else, both personally and professionally, feels strange, uncertain, and worrying—means I am particularly aware of the rare privilege that such an opportunity presents.

Proof positive

Proof of book chapter.

Despite innumerable advances in the technologies of publishing, some forms of academic writing still take a long time to proceed from screen to print. For that reason, the arrival of page proofs is always a welcome event: a material reminder that words written perhaps many years ago are soon to find their way into the world. Today I received proofs for a chapter I have written for a forthcoming edited collection, Empire and mobility in the long nineteenth century. The book had its origins in a pair of paper sessions at the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers, organised by its editors, Peter Merriman and David Lambert.

Although my understanding of Macintosh has developed significantly in the five years between the conference and the book, I am really very pleased with the way the chapter—”A contested vision of empire: anonymity, authority, and mobility in the reception of William Macintosh’s Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782) “—stands up. I look forward to reading the work of the other contributors when the book is published in June.

Following the footnotes

Erdman's "Commerce des lumie?res"

I wrote recently about a claim that appears in David V. Erdman’s book, Commerce des lumières: John Oswald and the British in Paris, 1790–1793. In that book, Erdman attributes the 1786 French translation of Travels to William Thomson (rather than to Jacques-Pierre Brissot). Because I was reading Erdman’s book on Google Books at that stage, I wasn’t able to fully interrogate the basis to his claim, but now that I have a physical copy to hand I have been able to consult his footnotes in more detail.

Erdman lists a number of the titles (including the 1782 English edition for Travels) that Thomson is thought to have edited. The accompanying footnote gives his sources as “Gentlemans [sic] Magazine, 87: I: 647–48, collated with entries in the Bibliothèque Nationale and DNB“. The first reference is to Thomson’s obituary, which appears in a supplement to volume 87, part 1, of the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1817. The obituary notes that Thomson’s “other publications, as far as they can be ascertained, were…’Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa,’ 1782, 8vo” (p. 648).

While it is not possible to know whether the current entries in the catalogue of the BNF are the same ones that Erdman consulted, they are nevertheless instructive. The 1782 edition of Travels is attributed both to Thomson (as “polygraphe”) and Macintosh. The catalogue notes its source for its attribution thus: “Attribué à William Macintosh par Halkett et Laing dans leur première édition, et à William Thomson par l’édition suivante de Halkett et Laing et par le ‘Dictionary of national biography'”. Here, the catalogue reflects changes in thinking evident in the Dictionary of National Biography. Indeed, the entry for Thomson in the 1898 edition of the DNB (written by Thomas Wilson Bayne) states “Of the numerous works written or edited by Thomson the chief are: 1. ‘Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa,’ 1782”. Bayne lists as one of his sources (surprise, surprise) “Gent. Mag. 1817, i. 279, 647”. So, as far as I can see, the attribution of Travels to Thomson (wherever it appears) can always be traced back to his 1817 obituary.

The BNF’s copies of the French edition of Travels list Macintosh (as Makintosh) as the sole author for some copies (see here and here), but list Brissot (as “Traducteur”) for another—see here. Erdman’s later claim that Brissot “arranged with Thomson for the publication of…the ‘Mackintosh’ Travels” (p. 73) is not supported by a footnote and I cannot immediately identify the basis to that suggestion. As ever, the refrain is a familiar one: I have more digging to do!

That Thomson had a role in the production of Travels is not in question; John Murray admitted such in 1790. What is less obvious from the surviving sources is what role Thomson had (if any) in the French translation of the book. I have not been able, thus far, to corroborate Erdman’s claim, despite the apparent certainty with which it is made.

More on the library of Sir Robert Palk

Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)
Palk by Joshua Reynolds (c. 1761)

I have written before about the identification of Sir Robert Palk as one of the owners of Macintosh’s Travels (Palk’s own copy of the book is now held by the Huntington Library in California). Travels was one of about 400 titles that formed Palk’s private library at Haldon House in Devon. I was contacted today by Iain Fraser, author of The Palk family of Haldon House and Torquay (2008), who was kind enough to pass along extracts of his book, detailing the collections (of art, objects, and books) that once existed at Haldon House. According to Fraser, Palk’s library contained, among much else, “books on Persian, European and British history, religions, philosophy, travel, poetry, heraldry, society, languages etc.” (p. 35).

Having now checked the Report on the Palk manuscripts in the possession of Mrs. Bannatyne, of Haldon, Devon (1922), I can see that Macintosh cropped up at least once in Palk’s own correspondence: in a letter from Abraham Welland, Palk’s nephew, sent from
Guttaul (now Ghatal) in India on 13 December 1785. In that letter, Welland writes

Our petition to the House of Commons against certain clauses of Mr. Pitt’s Act of Parliament [the 1784 India Act] will be ready to be sent home by the last ship of the season. A committee of fifteen gentlemen have been sitting for these six months past…The petition has been framed, and signed by most of the people here. Old [Joseph] Price, who wrote so virulently against Mr. Macintosh and Mr. Francis, has, under the feigned name of An Inhabitant of Calcutta, given every support in his power to the Bill. No person on its first arrival could say more against it than he did, and I am very certain that he was one of the party who at a drinking bout burnt it.

Welland to Palk, 13 December 1785. In Report on the Palk manuscripts, p. 377.

Welland’s letter offers an interesting insight into Price’s apparent hypocrisy on the issue of
Pitt’s India Act—a matter that will require further digging on my part. As chance would have it, a portrait of Palk by Joshua Reynolds will be shortly going under the hammer at Sotheby’s. The estimate? £20–30,000. A snip!

A further French reader

My recent return to thinking about Brissot’s role in the French publication of Macintosh’s book
encouraged me to look again at Gallica, the excellent digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. In particular, I was interested in any specific references I could find to the ownership of Macintosh’s book in its French edition. As ever, the library threw up some interesting mentions. In addition to some owners I had known about before, Gallica revealed that a copy of the first edition was owned, for a short time before his death in 1787, by Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. See Catalogue des livres imprimés et manuscrits de la bibliothèque de feu monseigneur le prince de Soubise (1789).

Charles, Prince of Soubise (undated, unattributed)
Charles, Prince of Soubise (undated, unattributed)

Brissot and Thomson: a literary partnership?

To date, I have tended to refer to Jacques Pierre Brissot as the “translator” of the French edition of Macintosh’s book. As with all aspects of this project, the reality of the situation looks to be more complicated still: there is reason to suspect that the translation may have been undertaken by the Grub-Street hack William Thomson (who had earlier provided editorial assistance to Macintosh and Murray in the publication of the original English-language edition of the book). In his 1986 book, Commerce des lumieres: John Oswald and the British in Paris, 1790–93, David V. Erdman notes

A Thomson project of 1786, a translation into French (later said to be by Brissot) of Travels in Europe…first attributed to William Mackintosh, later to Thomson, may have benefited from some editorial help from [John] Oswald. Oswald’s own “Voyage to the East Indies in 1781, with some Account of the Manners, Customs, History, Religion, Philosophy, &c. of Hindostan,” announced in his British Mercury of 1787 (197) as “a Work intended for the Press,” apparently never got into it.

Erdman (1986), p. 36, n. 4.

Erdman (1986, p. 73) further claims that “he [Brissot] arranged with Thomson for the publication of several books and pamphlets he was writing, or translating, or editing—including the ‘Mackintosh’ Travels published by Thomson in 1786″. While it is clear that Macintosh’s book had been on Brissot’s radar for some time, since he wrote to the Société typographique de Neuchâtel on the subject as early as 1784, the working relationship he had with Thomson over the book is less obvious. In a letter dated 4 April 1786 to Charles Alexandre de Calonne, Brissot states simply that “Ja’i publié et fait publier différents ouvrages utiles pour la France
— Voyages de Makintosh [I have published and have had published various useful books for France — Makintosh’s Travels]”.

Extract of a letter from Brissot to de Calonne, 4 April 1786. Papiers du ministre ROLAND, NAF 9534, fol. 328v, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

It is clear that I have more digging to do in order to reveal fully how (and, indeed, whether) Brissot and Thomson worked together in shaping the French translation of Travels. As ever, the historical record serves to reveal the fact that texts were never the work of isolated individuals: they required many pairs of eyes and hands working in collaboration.