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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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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”.

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.

We can rule out sisters. Though Anna had three sisters (two elder and one younger, two of whom were married), none of them was named Sarah or Eliza. It is just possible that an unmarried daughter of Anna’s Uncle William (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.