J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Answers to Spot the Actual British Aristocrats!

On Saturday I challenged folks to identify, from a group of four men’s names, which were actual high-born friends of Gen. Charles Lee, and which were inventions of the comic novelist P. G. Wodehouse. I promised an answer on Sunday, and it’s still Sunday.

Three of the names were real, found in John R. Alden’s biography of Lee, and one fictional.

Clotworthy Upton (1721-1785) was made the first Baron Templetown on 3 Aug 1776, having served as clerk comptroller to the Princess Dowager of Wales. (Another Clotworthy Upton served as a captain in the Royal Navy during Britain’s wars with Napoleonic France.)

Capt. Primrose Kennedy of the 44th Regiment of Foot had the dubious distinction of being wounded on two of the British Army’s worst days in North America: Gen. Edward Braddock’s disastrous march to Fort Duquesne in 1755, and the Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill twenty years later. He left the army in early 1779.

Godfrey “Biscuit” Brent, formally Viscount Biskerton, is one of the male leads in Wodehouse’s Big Money. He’s a member of the Drones Club, but doesn’t appear in any other stories.

Constantine Phipps (1744-1792, shown above) was a captain in the Royal Navy and a Member of Parliament. In 1773 he set out for the North Pole in the ship Racehorse, accompanied by the Carcass, commanded by Skeffington Lutwidge. The ships got to within about ten degrees of latitude of the Pole before ice forced them back. In his report on the voyage, Phipps was the first European to describe seeing a polar bear.

In 1775 Phipps succeeded his father and became the second Baron Mulgrave, but he continued to serve in the Navy. He participated in the Battle of Ushant in 1778, defending the British coast from the French. At the end of the American war he retired from active service.


BrightonBob said...

I'm no mariner, nor am I superstitious, but I would have love to have seen the look on Mr. Phipps' face once he learned the companion for his "Racehorse" ship was a ship named "Carcass." Seems an odd pairing of names. Perhaps the ice spared some crew from becoming "carcass," courtesy of the polar bear!

J. L. Bell said...

I also noted that odd name among all the other odd names in this posting, and wondered if perhaps “carcass” had an additional meaning in the 1700s. But I can’t find one. This history of the Carcass says the ship had that name from its construction as a bomb vessel in 1759.

GreenmanTim said...

The word "carcass" once referred to an incendiary artillery shell. A good name for a bomb vessel of this period. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carcass_%28projectile%29

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that link. I was searching for some earlier understanding of “carcass,” predating connotations of a dead body, and it looks like the shells got their name because they resembled a corpse’s ribcage.

I’d think that calling a ship stocked with carcasses the Carcass would be cause for confusion, but I agree—that seems to be what the Royal Navy did.

Roger Fuller said...

Is our Primrose Kennedy the same one who built the mansion that stood until the late 19th century at No. 1 Broadway in Manhattan? The house was built around 1760 or so.

J. L. Bell said...

An article about that building in the 3 Oct 1872 New York Times says Capt. Primrose Kennedy built it while he was in the Royal Navy, and that he later became Earl of Cassilis. Those details don’t match this army captain. Nor was I able to find another Primrose Kennedy who does match those details.

The article also connects the house with Gen. Israel Putnam, Margaret Moncrieffe (later known as the courtesan Mrs. Coghlan), and Elizabeth Loring, all of whom were in New York at different times. But it says Mrs. Loring stayed in the house after the war and rented rooms to Joseph Priestley and Talleyrand, which she most certainly did not.

I therefore set aside the article and started the query by a different route. I quickly found that Archibald Kennedy, 11th Earl of Cassilis and receiver-general of the Customs department in New York, built that mansion. Capt. Primrose Kennedy appears to have been some sort of cousin to the earls.