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.

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