PROPERTY OF THE DESCENDANTS OF GENERAL THOMAS GARTH
The diarist Charles Greville described Garth, who was small of stature and afflicted with a claret-coloured facial birthmark, as ‘a hideous old devil.’ In compensation, however, according to Flora Fraser, ‘contemporaries speak highly of his wit and, indeed, of his stories of his own soldering adventures in the West Indies.’1
Apart from his military career, General Garth is chiefly remembered for two other reasons, both of which are intimately connected with the royal family. The first concerns a young man, Thomas (‘Tommy’) Garth of the 15th Hussars (1800-1873), whom he acknowledged as his son and whose mother is generally accepted to have been Princess Sophia (1777-1848), George III and Queen Caroline’s fifth daughter.2 The second is General Garth’s nomination by the Prince Regent as guardian to his daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales during the months prior to her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later King of the Belgians). It was for this service that Garth was presented with this tray or, as it was originally described, salver. Charlotte’s wedding took place on 2 May 1816 (the date engraved on the tray) in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, Pall Mall, London. A copy of Garth’s letter conveying his thanks to the Prince Regent survives:
‘Sir! Her Majesty [Queen Caroline] having Graciously delivered The Prince Regents flattering message, I feel it my Duty from Attachment to His Majesty and The Royal Family, to accept of the Situation which His Royal Highness The Prince Regent has thought proper to place me in for a time; understanding that I am only answerable to His Royal Highness for my Conduct, and trust that I shall be able to prove my Attachment by my honesty and integrity, which I have ever piqued Myself upon: But I humbly entreat for fear of any Mistake that His Royal Highness will Graciously please to give me His Instructions in Writing Signed by Himself.
‘Your Royal Highnesss devoted Servant Thos. Garth’3
The only published reference to this otherwise unrecorded royal gift is in Anna Eliza Bray’s biography of the artist, Thomas Stothard (1755-1834). Mrs Bray recounts in some detail Stothard’s work for the Wellington Shield, which was commissioned in 1814 through Green, Ward & Green, goldsmiths of Ludgate Street, and made in Benjamin Smith’s Camberwell factory. She then writes, ‘Before I entirely quit the subject of works in silver, I may as well state another thing not generally known respecting this great painter [Stothard], that he made many designs for chased plate that were of extraordinary beauty. The principal was for the border for an oval salver, that was executed for King George the Fourth [i.e. The Prince Regent]. It was composed of a most admirable group of Bacchanalian figures.’4
Although no working drawing or finished design for this piece appear to have survived, two of Stothard’s sketches for the bacchanalian figures, arranged for the border of an oval salver or tray, (one of which is clearly furnished with two handles), are known.5 A much more detailed pen and wash drawing by Stothard for the border of an oval tray, with similar but not identical bacchanalian figures, but which appears not to have been made, is in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum.6 Unlike the figures on the Garth tray, however, some of those in the pen and wash drawing feature in designs after Stothard for two wine coolers.7
The immediate fate of General Garth’s tray following his death on 18 November 1829 is not entirely clear; there can be no doubt, however, that it has remained in his family until the present. By his will, signed on 12 September 1829 and proved on 10 December that year, he bequeathed his house, 32 Grosvenor Place, Mayfair, with its plate, household furniture and personal effects, together with his effects in and about Ilsington House, to ‘Tommy’ Garth. He named his residuary legatee as his nephew, Captain Thomas Garth RN (1781-1841) of Haines Hill, Berkshire, the son of his older brother, Charles.8 In the event, the tray came into the possession, not of the General’s son but of his nephew, a fact verified by the latter’s will, signed on 5 June 1839 and proved on 13 December 1841, in which he wrote:
‘I give and bequeath unto the said William Townsend [executor] the oval silver salver formerly belonging to my late Uncle General Thomas Garth upon trust to permit and suffer the same to go and be held used and enjoyed by the person or persons who for the time being shall be entitled in possession to my said Mansion House and Premises at Haines Hill by virtue of the limitations aforesaid as or by way of an heir loom to be preserved and kept in good plight and condition . . .’9
‘Tommy’ Garth, who outlived his cousin by nearly 35 years, was a notoriously intemperate; he so depleted his assets that within a year of General Garth’s death he was committed in October 1830 for debt to the King’s Bench Prison, Southwark. Even before then, however, he was the subject of widespread gossip and the butt of satirists following his elopement in 1826 with Georgiana Caroline (b. 1796), wife of Sir Jacob Astley (1797-1859).10 The unhappy lady shared young Garth’s disgrace, living with him in debtors’ prison until her death there from scarlet fever on 29 June 1835.
The most serious of ‘Tommy’ Garth’s escapades occurred during 1829, when he attempted to blackmail the royal family over his parentage, hoping for a lump sum and an annual pension of £3,000.11 His ploy failed and the Press’s opinion of him being ‘a silly youngster,’ ‘the reckless one who has violated private friendship’ and ‘the most contemptible of human beings’ seems to have been widely shared.12
In view of ‘Tommy’ Garth’s precarious financial situation, it seems likely that General Garth’s tray found its way soon after his death into the possession of his nephew, Captain Thomas Garth. This may have been through some arrangement between the cousins. Whatever the details, as we have seen, the tray was certainly in the General’s nephew, Captain Thomas Garth’s possession when he wrote his will in 1839.
With regard to the manufacture of General Garth’s tray, specifically the translation of Stothard’s designs for it into silver, it is not without interest to find that in 1815/16 the artist was living at 28 Newman Street, Oxford Street. His next door neighbour, at no. 29, was Philip Cornman13 (1754?-1822), the working goldsmith, jeweller and modeller, &c. who at this period shared the premises with his son, Henry (1779?-1830). Both father and son entered maker’s marks (respectively in 1793 and 1813) and both were modellers in wax who, described as sculptors, exhibited various busts, portraits and models at the Royal Academy: Philip between 1788 and 1792 and Henry between 1799 and 1821. Moreover, as Hilary Young has shown, there was a well-established connection between the Cornmans and Rundell, Bridge & Rundell which lasted from 1803 until about 1821/22.14 Not only was the Cornman business making silver centrepieces for Rundell’s,15 could it also have been executing silversmiths’ models and patterns for Rundell’s chief manufacturing subsidiary, the makers of General Garth’s tray, Paul Storr & Co?
1. The Six Daughters of George III, London, 2012
2. The most thorough account of this affair is to be found in Anthony Camp, Royal Mistresses and Bustards, Fact and Fiction, 1714-1936, London, 2007, pp. 313-323.
3. This copy is preserved in the Godsal family archives.
4. Life of Thomas Stothard, London, 1851, p. 161. The Wellington Shield, which is now at Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner, London, was presented on behalf of the Merchants and Bankers of the City of London, to the Duke of Wellington at Green, Ward & Green’s shop on Saturday, 16 February 1822.
5. Tate Gallery, London, purchased as pair of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, 1996, reference nos. T09975 and T09987.
6. This drawing is reproduced in Charles Oman, ‘A Problem of Artistic Responsibility: The Firm of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell,’ Apollo, London, March 1966, p. 174, fig. 1.
7. These two drawings are included in the album, Designs for plate by John Flaxman etc., which was formerly in the collection of John Roland Abbey (1894-1969), Museum no. E.70-124-1964 (E.86-1964 and E.110-1964 [pp. 14 and 35]).
8. National Archives, PROB 11/1764/122
9. National Archives, PROB 11/1955/17
10. The incident formed the subject of at least two satirical prints, ‘A Change of performance at Astley’s, or a pollution of Jacob’s Ladder’ and ‘Scene for a New Peice [sic] at Astley’s Theatre,’ published in London respectively in August and September 1826. For a report of the ensuing court case (19 February 1827), in which Sir Jacob sued Garth for criminal conversation with his wife, see The Morning Chronicle, London, Tuesday, 20 February 1827, pp. 2-3. The punning allusion to Astley’s Theatre refers to Astley’s Amphitheatre on the Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, famous
11. The story has been recounted many times, recently by John Van de Kiste, George III’s Children, Stroud, 1999, p. 152.
12. The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilleutons, London, 1829, p. 75
13. Westminster Land Tax Records, St. Marylebone, 1815 and 1816, respectively pp. 12 and 37.
14. Hilary Young, ‘Philip Cornman: a biographical note,’ The Silver Society Journal, no. 8, London, Autumn 1996, pp. 481-486
15. See, for example, the silver centrepiece made for the Earl of Balcarres, maker’s mark of Philip Cornman, London, 1803, retailed by Rundell’s, sold at Sotheby’s, London, 5 February 1987, lot 152
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