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Bad Willie’s Crime

20 Sep

Every family has its black sheep and in our family, it is William Cunningham Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore and Finlaystone (1775 – 1845), who is known by a number of soubriquets: “Bad Willie”, “The Runaway Laird” and “The Swindler”.

Born into a wealthy family and given every advantage, William was described as “a person of considerable accomplishments” who “although he possessed a love for the fine arts, it was in the more imitative and mechanical ones that he excelled”, being “without rival at turning the lathe”. And, indeed, he left some very fine ivory pieces, including a chess set with which my grandfather and I used to play our coffee-house games.

In his youth, William fell in with the Prince Regent’s set becoming an inveterate gambler.  He squandered the family art collection and the estates he had inherited (hence, “Bad Willie”) and by 1828 he had been forced to flee to the continent to escape his creditors (earning him the epithet of “Runaway Laird”).  But it is how he came to be known as “The Swindler” that is the most interesting part of his story.

Having lived briefly in Brussels and Tours, Bad Willie moved to Florence in 1832 with his second wife, Janet, their son Alexander and their daughters Susan and Margaret.  He was joined a couple of years later by his stepson, Allan George Bogle, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who had been on half-pay for about two years.

Bad Willie made his living in Florence by mechanically reproducing the rare engravings of artists such as Rafael Morghen, Domenichino and Guido Reni with great genius by use of a machine of his own design.  It was there that he fatefully made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Bourbel, a schemer, who had married an English heiress, and was now plotting to swindle the bankers Glyn & Co out of £1,000,000 by means of forged letters of credit.

Bad Willie was clearly at the heart of the plot, as was his stepson, whom he helped to enter into a partnership with two respected gentlemen of commerce to form a new bank “Bogle, Kerritch & Co, whose business rapidly grew to be highly profitable thanks to Mr Kerritch’s business contacts.  In 1839, Bad Willie introduced the Marquis de Bourbel to Bogle, Kerritch & Co as an investor.  But that was not his main contribution to the plot.  It was Bad Willie’s particular skill and his tracing machine that De Bourbel wanted so as to mechanically forge to perfection the signatures of Glyn, Hallifax, Mills and Co for the faked letters of credit.

The plot moved on apace when De Bourbel went to London where he encountered an old friend, another gambler of good family, the Baron d’ Arjuzon, who gladly joined the scheme.  Together they managed to procure the same paper Glyn & Co used for their letters of credit and then in January 1840 obtained a genuine letter of credit from them from the strong box of Bogle Kerritch & Co. of which Bogle was the custodian.

Another of the band, calling himself Comte de Paindry, tested his forged letter of credit by presenting it at Bogle, Kerritch & Co and received £200.  However, he returned the money the following day claiming that a shopkeeper had cast doubt on the authenticity of the letter.  He stated that rather than have his honourable name brought into question he would rather cancel the transaction, which the bank did, noting on the letter that it had been done at “the request of the bearer.”  This had the benefit of allaying suspicion and reassuring other lenders.

Once they had their forged letters, 6 of the conspirators travelled in pairs to different countries under assumed names to start presenting their letters on the same day, 19th April.  At first, all went well and they were able to draw large sums, but as is often the case, they got greedy.  D’Arjuzon successfully withdrew £750 in Brussels, but his companion, Perry (alias Ireland), was refused a further £750 in Antwerp the following day as the banker was suspicious that another advance was needed so soon and contacted the police.  Perry was arrested on the Ostend Ferry fleeing the country, which news caused the rest of the gang to decamp in great haste.

Nonetheless, they had managed to defraud various banks in Italy, Belgium, France and the Rhineland of the vast sum of £10,700 6s in just 6 days.  Surprisingly, none of the principal conspirators suffered any serious consequence.  Bad Willie’s family were not so fortunate.

The Times had published a letter on 26th May from one of their correspondents, Joseph Lawson, in which the fraudsters had been named, including Bad Willie, his son Alexander and his stepson, Allan Bogle.

Bogle sued Lawson for defamation of character.  However, the evidence of his involvement was such that the jury awarded him the paltry damages of just one farthing, and, as the judge refused to certify, he had to bear all of his legal costs.  His reputation and finances ruined, he died 10th April, 1843 in Westminster.

According to The Times, Alexander, who was described as a “debauched and dissolute young man”, was living under an assumed name in France “in great want and misery”, when he died of an infectious disease in a nursing home near Paris, less than a year after the scandal.  He was just 23 years of age.

Bad Willie was arrested in Florence – probably having returned to try and destroy his machine –  was expelled from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and banned from ever returning.  He eventually made his way back to London, where he died some five years later without ever facing any punishment.

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A Forgotten Scot called Don Roberto

24 May

It strikes me that, for her size, Scotland has produced more than her share of remarkable people and, thus, it is only to be expected that some of them are occasionally overlooked.

One such person is the man who was variously been described as “Scotland’s last and finest Renaissance man”, “The People’s Laird”, “The uncrowned King of Scotland”, “ a prince and paladin of our people”, “a writer’s writer”, the “Prince of Preface Writers” and “Godfather of the SNP”; a man celebrated in art and literature, whose friends from the worlds of politics, art and literature reads like a Who’s Who of his day. I am of course speaking of the author and politician Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham.

Don Roberto thinking

Robert was born in London on 24th May, 1852.  He was a quarter Spanish (his maternal grandmother was from a Grandee family) and three quarters Scots, with descent from the Earls of Glencairn and the Earls of Monteith (the latter being descendants of Robert II), while through his paternal grandmother, he could claim Plantagenet ancestry.  His father was heir to three estates stretching from the Trossachs through Dunbartonshire and across the Clyde to Renfrewshire – estates that Robert was to see lost during his lifetime.

Educated at Harrow, where he excelled at sports, and then in Brussels, where he acquired good French in addition to his English and Spanish, Robert travelled to Argentina to try and make his fortune cattle ranching.  It did not work out and Robert was captured by rebel gauchos and forced to ride with them until he managed to escape.  It was during this time that he earned the nickname, Don Roberto, which his friends were to use for the rest of his life.

Following a brief visit home, Robert returned to South America and travelled over land through Entre Rios to Paraguay where he hoped to make a fortune from yerba mate. When this too failed, he tried selling Argentinean horses to the Brazilian army only to find that the price had dropped.  These times, however, were to prove a rich source of inspiration for his future writings.

The story of how he met his wife is probably as apocryphal as her supposed origin (half-French, half-Chilean) and the pseudonym (Gabrielle La Balmondière) which she was to use for the rest of her life, the truth only finally emerging 80 years after her death.  She was, in fact, plain Caroline Horsfall – the daughter of a Yorkshire country Doctor – who ran away to go on the stage.  In rebellion against her father and grandfather’s strict evangelicalism, Carrie converted to Roman Catholicism.  She was to later research and write a widely acclaimed two volume biography of St Teresa of Avila.

gabriela.png

Caroline Stansfield Horsfall (alias Gabriela La Balmondeiére)

The romanticised version, as they told it, was that they met in Paris, when Robert was having trouble controlling a lively horse and came close to knocking her over.  On dismounting to apologise, he inadvertently spoke to her in Spanish.  To his surprise and delight she responded in the same language and they chatted and soon, having fallen in love, they decided to elope to London.  The only sure fact is that they married quietly in the Strand Registry Office on 24th October, 1878, the bride giving a false age as well as the assumed name.

Immediately afterwards, the couple left to travel through France and Germany before travelling to the USA and settling in Texas, where – apart from a spell in Mexico City (to which they travelled by wagon train), where Robert taught fencing and Gabrielle French and guitar – they remained until his father’s death in 1883, but still without making that ever elusive fortune.

Upon his return Robert became interested in politics – both his mother and grandmother were from leading Whig families, as had been his own Graham ancestors – and he stood for North-West Lanarkshire as a Liberal, though with a socialist programme which included:

 

Though a charismatic speaker known for his acerbic wit and ability to deal with hecklers, he was soundly trounced by his Conservative opponent in 1885.  Undaunted, Robert contested the seat again the following year and was elected by just 35 votes.  Frequently suspended for refusing to conform to the conventions of the House, he was the first ever MP to be suspended for swearing: the word was “damn”.

He championed the working class throughout and fought for the right for free speech and public meeting, getting himself knocked on the head and arrested, along with John Burns, while attempting to speak at the 1887 Bloody Sunday demonstration in Trafalgar Square.  Despite being defended by Herbert Asquith, he was sentenced to six weeks in HMP Pentonville.  He was a co-founder with Keir Hardy of the Scottish Labour Party, serving as its first President, a move which was to bring his parliamentary career to an end when he failed to win the seat as a Labour candidate for Glasgow Camlachie in the 1892 election.

Now that he was free from both the financial burden and time consuming demands of being an MP, he set his hand to writing.  At first it was a series of articles for the Saturday Review, but this was soon followed by a travel book Notes on the District of Menteith (1895) and, with Gabriela, a volume of short sketches entitled Father Archangel of Scotland (1898)He went on to write, over the next 40 years, 15 books of sketches, 2 travel books (one of which related his adventures in 1898 when trying to reach the forbidden Moroccan city of Tarudant while disguised as a Turkish doctor), 3 histories of the Spanish conquest, 7 biographies, innumerable prefaces for the books of others, as well as numerous articles for a variety of publications.

The new century was to bring double tragedy.  First, in 1901, Robert was forced by his insurmountable debts to sell the principal family estate at Gartmore, to Sir Charles Cayzer, Bt.  The estate had come to the family in the 17th century and Robert keenly felt its loss and saw it as a betrayal of his forebears. Then in 1906, his beloved wife Gabrielle, who had been a chain-smoker since their days in Texas, died in Hendaye, France, at the age of just 48.  She was buried on the Island of Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith.  Robert, with the help of a family retainer, dug her grave himself.  Her funeral was conducted by her brother, William Horsfall, a high-church Anglican priest.  Robert never remarried, though he was often accompanied in his later years by a Mrs Elizabeth Dummet.

Though a pacifist, Robert lost no time in trying to join up as a rough rider at the outbreak of the First World War.  He was 62 years old and was naturally turned down.  Undaunted he went to talk to his friends in the War Office, and was first put in charge of a section of the Remount, and later with the rank of brevet Colonel was made president of a commission to purchase horses in the Argentine for the British Army and so spent the next eleven months riding with the gauchos as he had done in his youth.  On his return voyage to England, his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat in the English Channel, but both he and the horses all managed to get ashore safely.  However, he was not home long as he was promptly sent back to South America in January 1917 to buy beef cattle in Colombia.

In later, life he became more deeply involved in Scottish Home Rule, and chaired the meeting that led to the formation of the National Party of Scotland in 1928.  With the merger of the Scottish Party with the NPS to form the SNP in 1934, Cunninghame Graham was chosen to be its first President.  He continued to speak at rallies and summer picnics up until the year before his death.

In defiance of his doctor’s warnings that he was too ill to travel, Robert insisted on visiting Argentina in early 1936.  On his arrival he was fêted and had hardly a moment to himself.  Some of the last images of him are at Radio Splendid in Buenos Aires and a photo of him writing to Robert Morley in the home of his friend W H Hudson at Quilmes, following which he contracted bronchitis.

Don Roberto & Fernando Pozzo 1

Don Roberto with Fernando Pozzo at Radio Splendid, Buenos Aires, March 1936

Despite early signs that he was recovering, the bronchitis turned into pneumonia and he died in the Plaza Hotel, Buenos Aires, on March 20th 1936, aged 83.  His body lay in state in the Casa del Teatro where crowds came to pay their respects as did the President of the Argentine Republic.  The funeral procession to the docks was long and included the two horses Tchiffely, his friend and biographer, had ridden from Buenos Aires to Washington DC.  He had planned to return home on the Almeda Star on March 26th, and so he did.

He was buried alongside his wife in the ruined chancel of the Priory of Inchmahome with a rough cut stone that bears his Argentine cattle brand.  A year later a memorial to him was unveiled at Castlehill in Dumbarton (later moved to Gartmore).  It contained stones from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – the countries of his youthful adventures, a medallion by Alexander Proudfoot RSA and the inscription:

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham 1852-1936 – Famous Author – Traveller and Horseman – Patriotic Scot and Citizen of the World – As Betokened by the Stones above. Died in Argentina, interred in Inchamahome – He Was a Master of Life – A King Among Men.

[Originally written and posted on the Cunninghame Graham Society Facebook page       on 24th May, 2012 – WRBCG.]

The Mausoleum Mystery

12 Sep

My ancestor, William Cunningham Cunninghame Graham (1775-1845) – better known in the family as “Bad Willie” – married Anna, daughter of the Ven. John Dickson, Archdeacon of Down, in 1798. They had 5 children before she tragically died in 1811, most likely in childbirth, at just 29 years old.

As the family burial ground at Gartmore had become rather full, the grieving widower had a stone mausoleum built, on the lakeside edge of the kirkyard at the Port of Menteith, to house her mortal remains until the sounding of the “Last Trump”.

Port of Menteith (2)

The Cunninghame Graham Mausoleum with Port of Menteith Parish Church

Despite there being six niches, none of the rest of the family has ever been laid to rest there. Even so, Anna Dickson is not alone.

There is a second coffin containing the body of another woman, who, coincidentally, also died aged just 29, but in 1814. This coffin contains the body of one Sarah Eliza Dickson. But just who Sarah Eliza Dickson was and how she was related to Anna is a mystery.

An entry in The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany (Vol 76 (2) p 879, which lists deaths in 1814, reads ” – At Gartmore House, Miss Dickson, daughter of the late Rev. Archdeacon Dickson, of Hillsborough.”, which would seem to suggest that they were sisters.  This is highly unlikely as, though Anna did have three sisters (an elder half-sister, Eleanor, an older sister, Jane, and a younger sister, Henrietta, –  of whom, the latter two were married), none of them was named Sarah or Eliza.  If she was a sister, why is she ommitted from the otherwise complete list of Archdeacon John’s eight children?

It is just possible that an unmarried daughter of Anna’s Uncle William (who was Bishop of Connor and Down) died while visiting Gartmore and was laid to rest beside her cousin. However, as the genealogies only give details of the bishop’s three sons but no information – not even a name – for any of the three daughters, such speculation must remain an unsolved puzzle.

A Tale of Two Thomases

30 Aug

In the south aisle of the parish church of Harrow-on-the-Hill, there is a monument which bears the arms of Graham of Gartmore on its base. It is the tomb of Thomas Graham, Apothecary-General to the Army and Apothecary to Kings George I & II, who was born ca 1666 and who died in Pall Mall on 14th May 1733. He had a son Daniel (to whom we shall return later), who was also an apothecary to kings (George II & III) at the Chelsea Hospital.

File:Thomas Graham (1666-1733) memorial, St Mary's, Harrow on the Hill, 2015 01.jpg

Memorial to Thomas Graham (1666-1733), St Mary’s, Harrow-on-the-Hill  (Photo by Edwardx, Wikipedia Commons )

In about 1699, hundreds of miles away in Scotland, another Thomas Graham was born. He was the third son of Robert Graham MD of Gallingad (later of Gartmore) and his wife Isabel, daughter of Nicol Bontine of Ardoch.

Like his father and older brother Walter, this Thomas too became an apothecary. While Robert had practised medicine in Edinburgh up until he inherited the Gartmore estates from his cousin Mary Hodge, his two sons were destined for greater things. Walter was to become Apothecary-General to the Army in America (but died unmarried in Kingston, Jamaica in May 1742) while Thomas was an Apothecary to George II, making him a contemporary of Daniel Graham at the Chelsea Hospital. In 1756, the wealthy Thomas bought the lands of Buchlyvie-Graham from James Graham of Buchlyvie, but he did not enjoy them for long as he died unmarried in March 1764.

While the ancestry of Thomas Graham of Buchlyvie is certain, that of the other Thomas Graham is far from clear. All that is known is that he was the son of Alexander Graham, who may or may not have been the son of one Robert Graham, an apothecary, who is believed to have come to London at about the same time as the Stuart king. However, there are no Roberts or Alexanders (neither being common names at that period) among the Gartmore Grahams. As there is no evidence that either Thomas ever matriculated arms, the Gartmore Arms (matriculated by Sir William Graham, 1st Baronet of Gartmore in 1673) are therefore used illegally as noted by Lord Lyon Thomas Innes of Learney, who none-the-less confounded the two Thomases in a case in 1957, in which a supposed descendant of the Harrow Thomas tried to block a descendant of Robert Graham of Gartmore from matriculating the Gartmore arms in his own name.

But there is a twist in this tale.

In the Farrington Diary, the artist relates that he and his fellow artist Sir George Beaumont visited the house of William Cunninghame Graham (a great-nephew of Thomas Graham of Buchlyvie, known to his family by the epithet, Bad Willie) in May 1805. There they admired a portrait of four children which was painted by Hogarth in 1742. Farrington was led to believe that it portrayed his host and sisters when Bad Willie was about 8 or 9 years old.

Full title: The Graham Children Artist: William Hogarth Date made: 1742 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Full title: The Graham Children
Artist: William Hogarth
Date made: 1742
Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/
Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk
Copyright © The National Gallery, London

As Don Roberto rightly points out in his biography of Bad Willie’s father (Robert Graham of Gartmore, known in the family as Doughty Deeds), this could not be Bad Willie as he wasn’t born until 1775 (11 years after Hogarth’s death). Don Roberto then makes one of his false assumptions. He assumes that as it was in his great-grandfather’s possession it must be of the Gartmore family and that Farrington must have misunderstood (I think it more likely, given Bad Willie’s proclivity for embellishment, that Farrington understood perfectly, but I am less generous than Don Roberto) and it was in fact a portrait of Bad Willie’s father. But had Don Roberto paused to think, he would have realised that this claim is equally dubious.

Doughty Deeds was only 7 in 1742 and was the second of three sons, so where is his elder brother, William? Furthermore, his two sisters (Elizabeth and Isabella) were the youngest of the five children, so who is the eldest girl in the portrait?

Remember I promised to return to Daniel Graham the apothecary, son of the Harrow Thomas Graham. The portrait, it turns out, is of his four children (left to right), Thomas (1740-42), Henrietta (b 1733), Anna Maria (b 1738) and Richard (b 1735). How the portrait came to be in Bad Willie’s possession (in Don Roberto’s day it was in the possession of Lord Normanton and is currently in the National Gallery in London) or why he tried to pass it off as being of him and his sisters to his artist friends we shall probably never know.

Poor Jack

14 Aug

The paintings in my grandparents’ drawing room did not hang quite right. This wasn’t because they had been badly hung but because the drawing room was oval (even the doors were curved), which meant they didn’t sit flat against the walls.

Some of the portraits were huge, like the one by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Lady Taylor behind the grand piano; others were much smaller, like the portrait (also by Reynolds) of my 6 x great-grandfather, Robert Graham of Gartmore (known as Doughty Deeds), which hung over the fireplace. His portrait was flanked by two much larger ones (both by Robert Edge Pine). To the left of the fireplace was a portrait of his brother-in-law, Simon Taylor (at the time of his death reputedly the richest man in Jamaica) holding an ornate cane in his right hand and a plumed bonnet in his left. To the right was a portrait of Doughty Deeds’ younger brother, John, wearing a red coat and holding his grey horse. It was the latter that attracted my attention most.

We were told that it was a portrait of Colonel John Graham of Kippen, who had supposedly fought with Wellington at the Battle of Assaye (September, 1803) and had been mentioned in despatches. He certainly looked very martial in his fine red coat with its gold tasselled epaulettes and the button holes all laced in gold thread, worn over a similarly decorated buff waistcoat, his long black hair loosely tied back, left hand resting on a basket hilt sword while he held his horse’s reins his right.

Robert+Edge+Pine-Colonel+John+Graham+Of+Kippen,+Third+Son+Of+Nicol+Graham+Of+GartmoreColonel (sic) John Graham of Kippen by R. E. Pine

This was the family myth and we all accepted it; though on reflection, his “uniform” does seem somewhat theatrical.

Years later I was to discover the truth about “Poor Jack” as his family called him. A wastrel and a gambler, he ran up huge debts wherever he went and his strict father, who despaired of him, finally washed his hands of him, leaving his older brother to bail him out. Perhaps there was a message in laird Nicol granting his third son use of Kippen, which lies on the very edge of the estate, as the old local expression, “beyond Kippen” means “at the end of the world”.

Poor Jack was born in 1741 (making very unlikely that he would have taken part in the Battle of Assaye as he would have been 63 years old) and, like his siblings, he was christened in the parish church at the Port of Menteith. He did see military service but only as a Lieutenant in the Honourable East India Company from which he was dismissed for insubordination in 1771 – hardly an advertisement for a regular army commission!  He died sometime before 26th May 1772, which makes it impossible for him to be the Major (later Colonel) John Graham the family myth hoped him to be.

Don Roberto claims that John had a son Jack, who was also a worry to his family, though, if true, nothing is known of his mother. However, I have been unable to find any reputable source to validate the claim. The most reliable source, The Red Book of Perthshire (Gordon MacGregor, 2008), states that Jack died without issue. I suppose it is possible that he had an illegitimate son that was kept out of the official records but who is mentioned in one of the letters on which Don Roberto based his biography of Doughty Deeds. Some day when I am in Edinburgh and have the time, I shall have to look.

As with so many family myths, two people who just happen to share the same – and in this case, very common – name, have been compounded through a descendant’s wild leap of imagination.