Found in translation

Reading almost any historical source can, at times, feel like an exercise in translation, as you work to make sense of a document written using a syntax and grammar, or in a particular social context, that might render it opaque. This metaphor, of course, becomes literal when dealing with sources written in another language—and the task of interpretation almost invariably become more complex still. I was reminded of these difficulties recently when trying to make sense of a legal deed, written in Paris in 1781, that concerns Macintosh’s involvement with Catherine Grand, who, in the late 1770s, had been at the centre of a scandalous and widely publicised trial in India following an affair she had had with Philip Francis, an East India Company colleague of her husband, George Grand.

Catherine Grand in 1783, by Vigée Le Brun. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 50.135.2.

Under circumstances that I do not yet fully understand, Macintosh became involved in ensuring Catherine’s welfare after her separation from George (this may have been at the request of Francis, who seems to have been keen to end the affair and to dispatch Catherine to Europe as rapidly as possible). While some historical sources suggest that Macintosh accompanied Catherine on her return voyage, I have not been able (thus far) to establish the accuracy of that claim. What is undisputed, however, is that on that journey Catherine struck up an intimate friendship with a Madras civil servant, Thomas Lewin, and that the pair enjoyed a brief romance, living together first in London and then in Paris. The relationship was short-lived, but Lewin provided an annuity for Catherine to afford her a degree of financial security.

Extract from a deed of annuity, 9 December 1781. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85.

I knew that the deed (above)—which I had found among Macintosh’s papers some years ago—concerned this annuity, but I had struggled to read it due to 1) my woefully limited French, 2) some contractions I was unfamiliar with, and 3) the particular legal phrasing employed in parts of it. Keen not to admit defeat, I wrote to a number of historians of eighteenth-century France and was eventually put in touch with the freelance researcher Dominique Lussier, a regular contributor to the work of the Voltaire Foundation, who was kind enough to agree to produce a transcription and a translation of the deed.

Even with Dominique’s help, however, parts of the deed resisted straightforward interpretation, being either obviously in error (it describes Catherine as Macintosh’s brother, for example), or hard to disentangle as a consequence of its use of long sentences with many conditional clauses and legal phrases. In this last context, I was, on the recommendation of a colleague, able to draw on the insights of a legal historian, Michael Lobban, who was kind enough to cast his eye over the deed and offer me his reading of it.

Although I still have some work to do on the document, it does, at least, establish Macintosh’s connection with Catherine unambiguously. The deed shows that the annuity had been purchased by “a close relative of the aforementioned Mrs Grand that did not wish to be named [une personne proche parente de lad. De. Grand qui n’a voulu être nommée]” (i.e., Lewin). The deed also imposed conditions, and stated that Catherine was permitted to draw on the annuity throughout her life only “If she does not take Holy orders and does not go back to her husband [Si elle n’embrasse pas l’état religieux et ne se reunit point avec son mari]”. If Grand were to fail to satisfy these conditions, the deed seems to indicate that the annuity would pass to Macintosh.

December in review

2020 epitomised.

Although December is not yet over, I don’t propose to do any additional work on the Macintosh project before 2021. I have parked the first chapter at c. 14,500 words, having taken Macintosh from the Highlands to the Ceded Islands and to the verge of his emergence as a political actor in Grenada in the mid 1760s. I hope to take advantage of the virtual writing retreat being run next month by the Historical Geography Research Group to recover the momentum of writing and, all being well, to have this particular chapter done and dusted by the end of January.

While much of my time in December was devoted to writing, I did manage to visit the National Archives at Kew for a day’s archival digging. I was very fortunate to manage to book a slot in the short window between the end of the second national lockdown at the beginning of the month and the rapid reshuffling of tiers last week. The visit was primarily an opportunity to consolidate some earlier work, but I was also looking at some new material, which offered a useful insight into Macintosh’s role as justice of the peace for the parish of St Andrew. Included in this new material is a fascinating deposition taken in 1770 from a French planter concerning the threat posed by a band of runaway slaves. The slaves, the planter claimed, had threatened to “come down and burn all his estates” and to do so not “in a dark Clandestine manner but with day light with drums beating and shells blowing”. “[I]n a very short time,” they further warned, “the Island of Grenada would be overturned”.

Macintosh’s record of these “rebellious & insolent Declarations” was passed via the Governor, Robert Melvill, to London. Melvill, with whom Macintosh repeatedly clashed, was, however, evidently keen to discredit the deposition (and Macintosh) in the eyes of his superiors. Melvill took pains to point out in his accompanying letter that Macintosh had been “appointed one of the Justices of Peace during my absence from the Government” and the deposition was only “said to be taken by him”. Keen to downplay the threat of insurrection as “so many Fictions or Exaggerations”, Melvill described such fears as “the artifices of some factious disturbers of Government”. Although I had seen extracts of the deposition before (it has previously been quoted by Brigitte Kossek, Tessa Murphy, and Donald Polson), I hadn’t realised it had been taken by Macintosh and I hadn’t ever seen it in the wider context of Melvill’s letter. Reading between the lines, the tension between Macintosh and Melvill is patent.

In addition to the short burst of work at the National Archives (which was incredibly impressive in terms of its organisation with respect to the pandemic), I was also in correspondence this month with the Sutherland historian Malcolm Bangor-Jones. Malcom has been tremendously helpful in filling in some missing details about Macintosh’s father, Lachlan. Malcolm was able to identify Lachlan in a range of eighteenth-century records—mostly assize lists—that pinpoint his shifting location and occupation between the 1740s and 1760s. Lachlan was a stonemason by trade, before being appointed factor at Newmore. In the 1750s, Lachlan moved north to Sutherland and became tacksman at Meikle Creich, Proncy, and Achinduich. I would, more likely than not, never have identified these records without Malcolm’s help.

Making plans for next month feels tricky at the moment; so much seems uncertain and anxiety inducing. If schools reopen in January, I will do what I can to finish the Caribbean chapter by the end of the month and then move on, with Macintosh, to India. If schools are closed, I will—like 2020—just have to cut my coat according to my cloth. In the meantime, however, I am thankful to be able to focus on the pleasures of home and to down tools until the New Year.

November in review

November epitomised.

Although I have felt at times this month that the external distractions of lockdown and domestic and international politics might entirely overwhelm my ability to focus on Macintosh, I have, somewhat to my surprise, managed to start writing. I have begun work on what will be the book’s second chapter, which seeks to account for Macintosh’s emergence as a commentator on the politics of empire. What I hope to show in this chapter is that his experience of the various sectarian and racial divides in Grenada during the 1760s and 1770s precipitated his politicisation and led to him adopting a vocal stance on matters he considered significant. The Caribbean was, in that respect, Macintosh’s political nursery and his time there is important in contextualising his later engagement with British India and the subsequent publication of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782).

My writing progress has, so far, been steady but also fairly slow: ranging between 500 and 1,000 words a day. In part this rate is explained by a somewhat constrained working day, defined by the hours of the school day. Partly, however, it is also explained by the fact that at least half of every writing day is devoted to reading and to research. I have always found it impossible to separate reading, research, and writing and so I tend to inch my writing forward line by line, paragraph by paragraph. Although this approach tends to give me confidence in the accuracy of what I am writing, it does also mean that it is very easy to get lost down a rabbit hole when trying to track down a snippet of information necessary to complete a particular sentence. At the beginning of this chapter, for example, I found myself needing to test a claim (from a 1782 source) that Macintosh had had “a good education”. Verifying this statement necessitated a lengthy detour into the literature on education in the Scottish Highlands during the eighteenth century, a check to see whether a parish school existed in Rosskeen at the time Macintosh was living there, what forms of education were available to the children of Tacksmen, like Macintosh’s father, and so on. A couple of hours of reading—together with an email or two to a more knowledgeable colleague—netted perhaps two sentences of final prose.

While in many respects it is a joy and a pleasure to be able to follow my curiosity in doing this kind of background work, it also speaks to a deeper-set anxiety I have about the challenges this book presents as a consequence of its scope. There is a very good reason, I think, that historians tend to specialise by period and/or area; there is a great deal to know and a vast literature to get to grips with. Following Macintosh means crossing multiple areas of historical and geographical specialism and exposing myself to the challenge of demonstrating appropriate competence in each of these areas. Precisely what makes this project interesting—Macintosh’s mobility within and across three continents and their political contexts—is what makes it challenging. In order to make progress, however, I have to try to put these concerns to one side and to write one line at a time.

Although my writing timetable has me finishing this chapter in time for Christmas, I no longer think that is realistic. Although I have a little more than 8,400 words written, I have, in effect, only reached as far in the chronological narrative as Macintosh’s arrival in Grenada. Much of what is relevant about his experiences there is still to come and will, I suspect, take me well into January to complete.

Uncertain legacies

The last will and testament of Anne Montague Macintosh. National Archives, PROB 11/1445/2.

At intervals over the last week, I have gradually been piecing together the last will and testament of Macintosh’s wife, Anne Montague (known as Ann). I always struggle with the particular hand in which eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century wills are written, so, as ever, the task became a collaborative one. With help from my other half, my dad, and the hive mind of Twitter (particular thanks here to George Adamson and Mette Bruinsma) I have wrestled meaning from impenetrability. The will, written in June 1799, is interesting for what it reveals about Ann’s relationship with her husband (or lack of it) and the wider legacy of their time together in the Caribbean.

By 1799, William and Ann were clearly leading separate lives. He was, at this point, somewhere between Bern and Nuremberg. She, on the other hand, was living in rented accommodation in Bloomsbury and her most significant friendship seems to have been with her servant, Anna Elizabeth Raeymaeckers, whom she appointed sole executor. In recognition of Anna’s “uncommon fidelity…for many years”, Ann granted her “whatever Ready Money I may have” together with “all my wearing apparel of every description…[and] all my moveables in Books & furniture”.

The few assets Ann seems to have had in London were supplemented by “Six Tradesmen named Boville Simon Gift Neptune Romane and Charles upon the estate or plantation called Richmond in the Island of Dominica belonging to William MacIntosh”. Ann requested that one of the six be sold to purchase an annuity for Anna and the other five be sold and the proceeds divided equally between her eldest daughter Elizabeth Bromley (known in the family as Betsy) and the children of her youngest daughter, Maria Colville (known in the family as Mary or Polly). No other mention is made of her husband.

When the will eventually came to be proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 2 June 1806 before Charles Coote, James Dewar, witness to the original will, was brought in to testify as to its authenticity. Dewar “made oath that he knew and was well acquainted with Anna Montagu Macintosh late of Francis Street in the parish of Saint Pancras in the county of Middlesex widow deceased and also with her manner and character of her writing”. There. Did you spot it? It refers to Ann as a widow.

Given that Macintosh did not die until 1813, why would someone who claimed to know Ann well allow her to be described as a widow? One possibility is that Ann had believed her husband to be dead, but this seems unlikely. Another possibility is that their relationship had broken down to such an extent that it was preferable to continue under such a pretext. Whatever the answer, it is a rather curious set of circumstances.

The other striking aspect of the will is the fact that Macintosh’s status as a slaveholder clearly continued, at least in part, well beyond his final departure from the Caribbean in 1777. Whether or not any of the six named slaves were still on the Richmond plantation in 1806—more than half a century after Macintosh first arrived in the Caribbean—is not certain, but if they were, and if they had been sold as requested, a further generation, Ann and William’s grandchildren, would have benefited from their grandparents’ uncertain legacy.

Brother George and the “Secret Works”

It is almost seven years since I visited the grave of Macintosh’s nephew, Charles, in the grounds of Glasgow Cathedral. Interred alongside him are the remains of Macintosh’s younger (and generally better-known) brother, George.

What I had not appreciated at the time of my visit was how close the gravesite was to the sizeable estate, Dunchattan—just off Duke Street in the east end of the city—that George occupied in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. A mere 500 metres from his final resting place, and neighbouring Tennent’s brewery, the estate of Dunchattan is where George established the cudbear dye works that would cement his commercial success.

Detail from Peter Fleming’s 1807 Map of the City of Glasgow and Suburbs. National Library of Scotland EMS.s.690

The map above, published in the year of George’s death, shows Dunchattan House in the top right with its formal gardens laid out to the south. The western portion of the estate was occupied by the dye works. These were colloquially known as the “Secret Works” as a consequence of George’s decision—apparently in an effort to prevent industrial espionage—to employ only Gaelic-speaking Highlanders in the factory, and the fact that the whole was enclosed in a ten-foot-high wall.

A larger portion of the same map, showing Dunchattan House (right) and George’s gravesite (left).

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in George’s dye works—both as a site of Gaelic cultural significance and as part of a merchant trade financed by the proceeds of transatlantic trade in sugar and tobacco. Nothing of the Dunchattan estate now remains, but its legacy is preserved in the names of streets in the area, including McIntosh Street and Dunchattan Street.

Cracking the code

Reading Macintosh’s letters from the distance of some two-and-a-half centuries can often feel like trying to crack a code; the names, places, and events whose significance would have been obvious to their author and original recipients are, for the modern reader, clues that must be deciphered and interpreted. Things could, however, be much worse; the could literally have been written in code.

In the middle of last week, as I was distracted by the unfolding events of the US election, a number of interesting scanned letters arrived from the Bodleian Library. These letters, exchanged between Macintosh and the spy James Talbot during 1798, were sent to and from Bern at a time of intense counterrevolutionary activity in that city. Macintosh’s letters to Talbot, usually addressed to his alias Monsieur Tindal, are rich with reportage on current events as well as Macintosh’s own views and opinions as to the course of, and correct responses to, the French Revolution, just then finding new life in the form of the Irish Rebellion.

In one letter Macintosh laments that fact that he and Talbot had not “composed a short cypher for the names of a few persons, places & things” before Talbot’s departure from Bern. “[T]he want of it,” Macintosh confided, “is now become a restraint, at least on my communication to you”. For want of a cypher, Macintosh occasionally disguised some names in his letters by means of dashes, but, on the whole, his correspondence with Talbot remains legible, if not always immediately understandable. And thank goodness for that.

While the political convulsions of the present can often feel overwhelming, the turbulence of the world in which Macintosh lived and which he experienced at first hand—spanning the Jacobite rebellion, the Seven Years’ War, decades of sectarian division on Grenada, the Siege of Pondicherry, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars—were exhausting and can help to put things into some perspective.

Laying a ghost to rest

Notice of the death of William Macintosh

It has long been a source of frustration and embarrassment that I have been unable to determine one basic fact of Macintosh’s life: where and when he died. I knew that it had to have happened during a particular window of time, specifically between 18 October 1810, when he added a codicil to his will, and 13 April 1816, when his will was proved in London. From secondary sources I also had reason to believe that he had died in Eisenach in Saxony, where he had been living since at least 1807.

From time to time over the last eight years I have returned to the problem of the uncertain terminus of Macintosh’s life and have trawled newspaper records and genealogical databases without success. I realised today that I had taken things as far as I could and wrote to an Eisenach-based genealogist, Christian Andreas Hoske, to see if he might be able to help. To my delight, Christian wrote back within a few hours with an entry from a register of deaths held by the Landeskirchenarchiv Eisenach (reproduced above) which records Macintosh’s date of death as 13 January 1813. The full entry, in Christian’s transcription, reads:

William Macintosch, aus Glasgow gebürtig, ist den 13ten Januar an Schwäche, in einem Alter von einigen 70 Jahren und wurde den 15ten Januar beigesetzt

Notwithstanding the Teutonic rendering of Macintosh as Macintosch, and the mistaken statement that he was born in Glasgow (an easy mistake to make, perhaps, given his connections to that city via his brother George), it seems highly likely that this is, indeed, “my” William Macintosh. The statement that he died “in einem Alter von einigen 70 Jahren” (i.e., around the age of 70) would tie in with what I know; Macintosh would have been 74 in January 1813. At this stage, and after so long spent hunting down this information, I am happy to accept the ambiguity and signal my thanks to Christian for so swiftly solving this particular part of the puzzle. And there we have it: William Macintosh (August 1737–13 January 1813).

October in review

Another month has flown by, seeming even more rapid than the first. In looking back at last month’s report, I am, however, relieved and somewhat surprised to see that I (largely) achieved the goals I had set for myself, namely to take stock of all the primary material on which the book will draw, and to put together a timetable to help structure the analysis and writing that is to follow.

The first of those tasks involved consolidating the archival reference photographs and transcriptions that I had accumulated during the past eight years and chasing up a number of leads that I had not previously been able to follow. In this endeavour I have been entirely dependant upon the support and kindness of a number of archivists and librarians who have tracked down and reproduced documents—often for free or for a nominal charge—that I have needed to consult. These new pieces of the puzzle have both confirmed things that I suspected and revealed totally unexpected aspects of Macintosh’s life, such as his time spent as a counterrevolutionary agitator in Bern during the French Revolution.

As things stand, I have identified primary “Macintosh material” in nineteen repositories in five countries. Ironically, while it has proved quite straightforward to obtain reproductions of material from distant locations, such as the US, accessing material closer to home has proved more difficult. I have tried without success, for example, to book a timeslot to consult material at the National Archives, and the British Library has currently stopped taking reproduction requests. On occasion, however, I have been able to draw on the kindness of academic colleagues to help fill in some of the blanks. This week, for example, Dr Tessa Murphy was good enough to share some of her archival reference photographs with me so that I could check a couple of sources from the Colonial Office files.

While taking stock of the primary material has helped me develop some sense of “control”—in that I know what I have and I know what I still need to consult—the sheer amount of primary material, particularly relating to Macintosh’s time in the Caribbean, is rather overwhelming (a single letterbook of Macintosh’s outgoing correspondence runs to almost a quarter of a million words, for example). It is here that I feel the pressure of time most acutely; I could easily spend my entire fellowship just reading the primary material. The challenging task is to develop criteria for determining the 1% of important sources and jettisoning the remaining 99% without feeling I have missed something vital.

The book’s chapter structure (columns) with supporting primary sources identified (in rows by repository).

To some extent these criteria have begun to emerge from my attempts to complete my second task: to structure the book and my writing timetable. After going round the houses on this one a number of times, I have developed a structure that I think works in respect to the themes I want to address in the book and the primary and secondary sources that support it overall. I have sketched a plan for a book with five empirical chapters, structured roughly chronologically-cum-geographically, dealing in turn with 1) Macintosh’s political apprenticeship in Granada; 2) his experiences in, and political examination of, British India; 3) the authorship, editorship, and publication of Travels; 4) the reception, piracy, translation, and reading of Travels in Britain, Continental Europe, and North America; and 5) Macintosh’s counterrevolutionary activities during the French Revolution and his subsequent exile to Germany.

While I have always known that I cannot hope to write the whole book during my fellowship, I am very keen, if at all possible, to complete a first draft of the five empirical chapters by the end of August 2021 and have drawn up a timetable with that goal in mind. Although I am very much on home ground when it comes to the two chapters on the publication and reception of the book—these are processes and themes I have dealt with in earlier work—the other three will really take me out of my comfort zone in terms of area specialism and scholarly expertise. That, of course, is part and parcel of research that is driven by curiosity; you have to follow it wherever it takes you.

My task for November is, then, to deal with as much of the primary material from the Caribbean as I can before beginning to write the book’s first empirical chapter. My current timetable gives me until the middle of December to complete that portion of the book, but I will not be too hard on myself if I overrun. No research or writing takes place in a vacuum and the twin concerns of pandemic and politics are always there to rob me of my focus and motivation*, but I know from previous experience that when it is possible to achieve a rhythm in writing it can be both sustaining and positive in its effects. Onward, onward!

* Here, I am fully in tune with Macintosh’s expressed desire to “drink the Waters of Lethi [sic] to forget Politics”.

The closer you look, the more you see

George Rose by Sir William Beechey (1802). NPG 367.

In my last blog post I noted the fact that Macintosh had, over the course of twenty years between 1780 and 1800, “sent [anonymous] sketches of plans of finance &c to persons closely connected with Government in England”. I was intrigued enough to see if I could identify any of these letters and think I may have found one in the papers of the politician George Rose (1744–1818) at the British Library. The finding aid for Add MS 42774 includes a tantalising entry:

f. 78 Louis XVI of France: Anonymous letter from a Scotsman in Paris conc. Anglo-French relations: 1792.

The subject matter, the location, the date, and the recipient all seem to fit Macintosh’s M.O. very closely. I know from another source that Macintosh wrote to Rose at least one other time (in 1800), but I have, as yet, been unable to track that letter down. Indeed, I only spotted the 1792 letter whilst trying to find the one from 1800.

Although I have searched the BL Archives and Manuscripts catalogue many, many times, I was encouraged by this discovery to try again and was rewarded by a few hits that had previously escaped my notice. These include a 1781 letter (Add MS 8406 f. 199) from Macintosh to Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, then Secretary at War, and a batch of correspondence from 1796 (Add MS 38231) to and from Charles Flint (1777–1832), Alexander Fraser, 15th Lord Saltoun (1758–1793), and G. Chalmers [most probably George Chalmers (1742–1825)]. It is likely that these letters concern Macintosh’s counter-revolutionary activities in Bern, but I look forward to confirming that in the new year.

The identification of any new correspondence from the 1790s is really helpful, since Macintosh’s own archive fell silent after its seizure by the revolutionary authorities in 1794.

Muddled and cranky: Macintosh’s letter to a Prime Minister

Macintosh to Addington, 15 November 1801. Devon Archives and Local Studies, 152M/C/1801/OZ/130

Although my current focus should be falling exclusively on Macintosh’s experiences in Grenada in the 1760s and 1770s (as I prepare to begin work on the first of the book’s empirical chapters), I do find it hard to resist the lure of distraction whenever a new or unexpected piece of information about Macintosh presents itself.

This week I received a copy of a letter from Macintosh to the then Prime Minister, Henry Addington, that I have long looked forward to reading. The reason for my anticipation was the idiosyncratic and rather brilliant description of the letter in the catalogue of the Devon Archives, which reads “William MacIntosh, Henry Addington – Ideas on taxation from an old pamphlet (muddled, cranky letter), 1801″

While I do think the archivist was perhaps a little unfair on Macintosh on this occasion, I fully recognise the problem: Macintosh often wrote in convoluted and circuitous ways that make interpretation—particularly from a distance of more than two centuries—challenging, to say the least. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating letter that both confirms some things I had known, or suspected, and reveals new information and opens up new lines of investigation.

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, by Sir William Beechey (1803). NPG 5774.

The letter is interesting partly for what it reveals about Macintosh’s time in Germany. It was sent from Offenbach on the south shore of the river Main, opposite Frankfurt, and contains an account of Macintosh’s investigations the previous year (1800) in Nuremberg. As Macintosh tells it,

In a research amongst old books in the shop of an antiquarian in Nuremberg last year, I found a neglected pamphlet, which I thought worthy of being preserved & bound, on the profound subject of finance.

Macintosh then goes on to expound, seemingly on the basis of this pamphlet, his views on the issue of taxation which, put simply, was that excessive taxation “upon the Necessaries of Life” would drive up the price of British-manufactured goods and reduce their competitiveness on the world market. In Macintosh’s view, “the principal burthen [sic] of the State machine must be made to fall [instead] upon the pecuniary incomes of persons, without exception, in a progressive ratio not dissimilar to the mode of estimating diamonds”.

Perhaps keen to assure Addington that this was no idle speculation, Macintosh underlined his long-term commitment to the task of shaping the government’s view on issues of finance:

At various periods—within the last 20 Years—I sent sketches of plans of finance &c to persons closely connected with Government in England; some of which have been partially adopted—without the real Author’s name being known.

Beyond the contents of the letter itself, which have interesting parallels with discussions around a controversial duty imposed on goods exported from Grenada in the 1760s and 1770s, it is really useful to have confirmation of Macintosh’s status as an anonymous informant and would-be persuader. What this does mean, of course, is that there will be many unsigned letters from Macintosh to British politicians that I can never hope to find. As I try to remind myself, however, my task in this book is not to be definitive, but to open up the world of Macintosh for other scholars to explore.