Lord Dufferin and James Whitaker Wright, or How Ava Met his Waterloo
This is the tale of two men who had little in common other than a taste for the extravagant in building, and in yachts. One was an Irish peer and the leading diplomat of his age—Governor General of Canada, ambassador in St Petersburg and Constantinople, plenipotentiary of Egypt, Viceroy of India and, as such, conqueror of Upper Burma. The other was the son of a humble dissenting minister, who rode the mining boom at the end of the 19th century to become one of its most celebrated tycoons.
Their paths crossed as a result of the press of money, of which the diplomat was almost always short. However, whilst the diplomat’s buildings (public and private) have left a lasting legacy, most of what the tycoon built with the funds of others (and with the diplomat’s unwitting support) perished within fifty years of his suicide. The most idiosyncratic element of what remains lies hidden behind his walls, at the bottom of a lake.
Stipple engraving of Lord Dufferin as a young man, by Charles Holl, after Henry Tanworth Wells.
Uncorking Old Sherry, by James Gillray (1805). William Pitt stands in the House of Commons, facing the leaders of the opposition, whose heads are in bottles. Pitt is uncorking Sheridan and is being sprayed by his oratory.
The caption reads: “The honble. Gent. Tho’ he does not very often address the House, yet when he does, he always thinks proper to pay off all arrears, & like a Bottle just uncorked bursts all at one into an explosion of Froth & Air,—then, whatever might for a length of time lie lurking & corked in his mind … is sure to burst out at once, stored with studied jokes, sarcasms, arguments, invectives, & everything else, which his mind or memory are capable of embracing whether they have any relation or not to the Subject under discussion.”
Dufferin’s mother was very conscious of her Sheridan origins, although her grandfather’s career had ended ingloriously, and her family was frowned upon by the Blackwoods. She had high ambitions for her son and did her best to ensure his career would rekindle Sheridan glory.
Forcing the passage of the Bocca Tigris in China, Sep 1834
The name is derived from the Portuguese, Boca do Tigre, meaning “Tiger’s Gate”, derived from a rock nearby said to resemble a tiger’s head. The straits guarded the approaches to Canton and were a frequent point of contention between Britain and China.
This was the high point of Price Blackwood’s naval career, but his effort to use it to create a political name for himself proved a failure. He died, when crossing the Irish Sea, of a morphine overdose, when Dufferin was at Eton.
Eviction Scene, Ireland, during the famine
Whilst a student at Oxford, Dufferin travelled to Skibbereen, in Ireland, to report on the famine. His 1847 account was a powerful piece of reporting and reminded the English that “within two days journey from the richest and most thriving country in the world (is) found a town plunged in the lowest depths of misery and desolation.”
On his return to Oxford, Dufferin campaigned to raise a famine relief fund. He finished his studies early and set about creating work for his tenants by improving the grounds at Clandeboye. Although the house benefited, it was charity he could hardly afford: in 1847 he had debts of nearly £30,000, approximately six times his real income.
Helen’s Tower, Clandeboye (William Burn, 1861)
In an upper room, beneath a brass plaque inscribed with a poem written by Helen to celebrate her son’s twenty-first birthday, Dufferin responded with another (commissioned from Tennyson) with which he dedicated the tower and celebrated his filial devotion:
Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land,
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in lettered gold.
Would my granite girth were strong
as either love, to last as long.
The bridge at Helen’s Bay station (Benjamin Ferry, 1863).
When the railway station was built, Dufferin had planned an upmarket seaside town for the Bay. As ever, the funds at his disposal failed to match the scale of his ambition.
At the station, the architect designed a private waiting room, which was connected to the driveway via a staircase. At the bottom, a carriage would have been ready to whisk the Dufferins away beneath the coat of arms on this medieval-looking bridge. The station still operates today.
Capture of Bomarsund, 15th April 1854, by Victor Adam.
In his diary, Dufferin wrote of the battle, “The loss on either side was insignificant. As for the Russians, I believe scarcely a man was slain; and to us as much damage was done by our own weapons as anything else. One night two French regiments mistook each other and fired on their friends; the noise awoke the enemy, who joined in the chorus, with the result of two or three killed and some wounded.”
Nonetheless, he got pretty close to the action, and nearly had his head blown off for his pains.
In the Ice, from Letters in High Latitudes.
Of Spitzbergen, Dufferin wrote: “I think the most striking feature of the panorama around us was the stillness, and deadness, and impassibility of this new world; ice, and rock, and water surrounded us; not a sound of any kind interrupted the silence; the sea did not break upon the shore; no bird or any living thing was visible; the midnight sun, by this time muffled in a transparent mist, shed an awful, mysterious lustre on glacier and mountain; no atom of vegetation gave token of the earth’s vitality; an universal numbness and dumbness seemed to pervade the solitude.”
Two designs prepared by the Belfast architect William Lynn for Lord Dufferin.
The first envisaged turning the existing Woodgate-designed house into something resembling a French chateau, but adding to it a huge Scottish baronial tower. The second was for an entirely separate house on Belfast Lough, near Helen’s Bay. In this fantastical effort, the main buildings are on two sides of a courtyard—again in the French style. Inevitably, the design includes a tower, this time more German than Scottish.
All this was obviously way beyond Dufferin’s means, yet he cherished the plans, binding them into a volume he kept in the library, just in case they might be of use to future generations. In 1899 he wrote, “If anything in the shape of rebuilding Clandeboye is to be done, Mr Lynn’s last plans for the new site would prove the best.” Yet he confessed “unless some future owner of Clandeboye turns into a millionaire, I do not imagine it would be wise to change the site of the mansion.”
Two pictures of the interior of Clandeboye
The house took its current external form at the start of the 19th century, when Dufferin’s great uncle engaged Robert Woodgate, who had been trained in the office of Sir John Soane, to be his architect. The staircase on the left dates from his time. The narwhal tusks at its foot are a memento of Dufferin’s arctic voyage in the Foam.
On the right is the sequence of vestibules created by Dufferin, when he moved the entrance from the south to the east front. In the distance, at the top of the stairs, is where the statue of Amun from Deir-el-Bahri originally stood.
Another view of the hall at Clandeboye, created in the 1860s out of the original kitchen.
On the walls is a collection of Indian weaponry and, on the floor, the skin of a tiger shot by Dufferin when Viceroy in the 1880s.
On the table on the left is a model of the Royal Palace at Mandalay, seized in the Third Anglo-Burmese war. On the extreme right is a terracotta bust of Dufferin, in Viceroy’s uniform.
A fancy dress ball at Rideau Hall, 23rd February,1876
The photographer, William James Topley, has created this composite image by cutting out individual photographs of the participants and pasting them onto a painted backdrop. At this particular event, Lord and Lady Dufferin were dressed as King James of Scotland and his Queen.
The Ottawa “season”—which included ice-skating in the Rideau Hall grounds—was deliberately placed in the winter, when the climate was at its most inhospitable.
In a letter to Lord Canarvon in 1874, Dufferin wrote, “You may depend on my doing my best to weld this Dominion into an Imperium solid enough to defy all attraction from its powerful neighbour across the Line, and to perpetuate its innate loyalty to the Mother Country.” By the time he left, the sense of nationhood was building, although Dufferin estimated it would take another generation for it to be resilient enough properly to resist Americanisation.
Chateau Frontenac and Dufferin Terrace, Quebec City
In 1875, Dufferin said, “Quebec is the one city on this continent which preserves the romantic characteristics of its early origin, a city whose picturesque architecture and war-scathed environments present a spectacle unlike any other to be found between Cape Horn and the North Pole.” He campaigned for the restoration of its walls and won a subsidy from the House of Commons. The Queen funded the construction of one of the gates, in memory of her father, the Duke of Kent. However, his plan for creating a “Canadian Carcassonne” was defeated by sense and a lack of cash.
On 15th May 1885, Dufferin wrote of Simla to Lady Dartrey: “The air is delicious, but anything more funny than the appearance of the town you cannot imagine. It consists of innumerable little miniature Swiss cottages which are perched like toy houses in every nook and cranny where they can get a foothold on the ridge of a Himalayan spur. It looks like a place of which a child might dream after seeing a pantomime. If you look up from your garden-seat you see the gables of a cottage tumbling down in top of you. If you lean over your terrace wall you look down on your neighbour’s chimney pots. That the capital of the Indian empire should be thus hanging by its eyelids to the side of a hill is too absurd.”
Dufferin’s obsession with the Viceregal Lodge is reflected in its Jacobean / Scottish baronial character, with its towers and cupolas, although the profusion of verandas and balconies also owes something to the style of Simla.
His stamp was most pronounced in the multitude of coats of arms and heraldic beasts. “There is nothing makes such a pretty decoration as heraldry, as each shield becomes a spot of brightness and light, besides being very interesting”, he told his daughter.
The tower, from which a flag was flown when the viceroy was in residence, was later heightened by Curzon. It also contained the water tanks.
On 13th July 1887, Dufferin’s daughter confided to her diary: “D took Hermie and me, all over the house in the afternoon. We climbed up the most terrible places, and stood on planks over yawning chasms. The workpeople are very amusing to look at, especially the young ladies in necklaces, bracelets, earrings, tight cotton trousers, turbans with long veils hanging down their backs, and a large earthenware basin of mortar on their heads. They walk about with the carriage of empresses, and seem to be as much at ease on the top of the roof as on the ground floor; most picturesque masons they are. The house will really be beautiful, and the views all around are magnificent … I am glad to have that open view, as I shall not then feel so buried in the hills.”
The gallery (50ft high and 90ft long) has been criticized for being too narrow, at 18ft. It was meant to be 12ft wider; a compromise was made to save expense and to speed completion before Dufferin’s departure. Mirrors decorated with glass mosaics from King Thibaw’s palace in Mandalay were added by Lord Curzon.
The drawing room was decorated in gold and brown silks, the ballroom in a shade of yellow, and the dining room in Spanish leather in “rich dark colours.” These made Lady Lansdowne “shudder.” The Curzons redecorated with sky-blue, pale green, yellow and crimson damask, but still disliked the place afterwards.
James Whitaker Wright
When in, March 1903, Whitaker Wright turned up in New York on board the SS La Lorraine with his niece, the British police sent a warrant for his arrest with the following description:
“Age, fifty years; height five feet ten or eleven inches; complexion florid; hair and mustache dark; small eyes; receding forehead; small chin with fleshy roll beneath; stout build and weighing about 252 pounds. Wears gold-rimmed glasses, with gold chain attached. Speaks with a slight American accent.”
(As reported in the New York Tribune, 16th March.)
The first in a series of photographs of Witley Park, taken in the 1920’s when the estate had passed into the ownership of Sir John Leigh. Shown here by kind permission of the Godalming Museum.
In this picture may be seen the Thursley Lake, one of three created by Whitaker Wright from the Brook stream.
It is at the bottom of this that sits the “submerged room”, variously described as a smoking/billiard room or, by the more fanciful, a ballroom. Beside the top of its dome there is a stone parapet, just visible.
To the left of the mansion can be seen the palm court and, to the right, the dome of the observatory, with its copper revolving roof.
On 21st October 1905, The Gentlewoman magazine described a modern mansion, in the Early English style, with half-timbered work (just visible over the driveway).
The drawing room was panelled with brocaded silk and fitted with “a very fine statuary mantel enriched with chased ormolu mouldings.” There was a double dining room fitted in Spanish mahogany “of the most beautiful workmanship” and a billiard room fitted in valuable carved oak, with arched ceiling and lantern light, a deep recess fire-place with richly tiled jambs and “an exquisite” carved mantel. “For so noble a mansion nine family and guest bed chambers seem but a small number”, it said, “but they are very elaborately decorated and fitted in mahogany in exquisite taste.”
“The noble ball or music room is entered from a wide landing through a pair of handsomely carved mahogany doors, having a richly carved over door, and measures 81 feet by 33 feet, with a lantern of beautiful stained glass, as well as windows in oak and walnut, and the walls are panelled throughout in cedar wood with carved and gilded borders, with finely carved and gilded frieze and arched ceiling, exquisitely decorated by Italian artists.
Sixteen fluted columns of cedar wood with gilded capitals add to the beauty of this fine saloon, which is provided with a completely fitted stage, dressing rooms etc., and a minstrels’ gallery, adorned by a very beautiful gilded grill.
The lighting is by two very fine ormolu and crystal chandeliers and twelve chased ormolu wall lights.”
“On the Southern end of the terrace, and communicating with the mansion,” The Gentlewoman wrote, “ is a beautiful palm house or winter garden, with sculpture galleries, measuring about 92 feet by 42 feet, having a domed roof and mosaic flooring.” Outside was “a beautiful pleasure ground” and garden adorned by some more finely sculptured statuary.”
The Sketch of 11th October 1905 described the house as having cost Whitaker Wright £500,000 to build.
The stables were built for fifty horses—though, by Sir John Leigh’s time, they housed a fleet of Rolls Royces.
“The ceilings are of moulded plaster, showing, in fine relief, scenes of the chase. Each horse has over his stall a separate picture, and from end to end the complete story of the hunt is depicted. Over one set of stalls harriers are represented and over the other a fox-hunt. Behind the horses the space allowed is very wide and is furnished all along with old oak settees upholstered in leather on which princes might recline to admire the horses or the fittings, the whole of which in the stable are of polished gun-metal. The effect is gorgeous.”
(A contemporary account cited in Lord Reading and His Cases, page 136.)
The dome of the “submerged room” is built of iron and glass and is approached through a teardrop-shaped tunnel. The tunnel, originally fitted with electric lights, was entered via a spiral staircase on the lake shore in front of the house.
The dome is about 30 feet high. Originally, the room had a mosaic floor and settees around its edges. The glass panels in the dome are said to be three inches thick. Accretions of algae subsequently turned them a lurid green, but in Whitaker Wright’s day they were kept clean by a team of divers.
Although there was a large billiard room in the house, Whitaker Wright was said to have put another table in this room, so he could play whilst watching the fish.
The dome is surmounted by a statue of Neptune seeming to rise from the waters. From the room, a second tunnel and staircase gives access to an offset stone parapet, with an external appearance not unlike a giant lily pad on the lake’s surface. From it, Whitaker Wright’s guests could sip their cocktails whilst looking at the statue, lit from below at night and - beyond it - the house.
Two postcards showing the exterior of the Lea Park as it would have appeared in Whitaker Wright’s time, or shortly afterwards. The first clearly shows the observatory on the right; the second gives a good view of the palm house from the ornamental garden.
Newspaper cartoon, “The Cliffs of Crime”
The caption reads: “JP Morgan—That reckless Whitaker Wright has gone over the cliff. I always knew he was a bungling driver.”
Unfortunately, there were many who didn’t.
1900 Queen’s Cup, Cowes. “Sybarita” finishing (upper illustration), “Meteor” and “Satanita” with spinnakers set. From the Illustrated London News.
“Sybarita” was a 924 ton, 220 ft. yacht built in 1893 for Lord Ashburton, who named it “Ventura”. Whitaker Wright bought her in 1897 from Martin Rucker, paying him with shares in Lake View Consols. (Rucker had been given her by his partner, Hooley, who had bought it from Lillie Langtry, mistress of King Edward VII, for £50,000.) Here she is shown racing at Cowes with “Meteor”, the yacht belonging to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
In 1901, Whitaker Wright sold Sybarita to Jay Gould, an American railroad baron, who was about as unscrupulous as Whitaker Wright himself. (In the 1860’s, Gould was linked to New York’s Tammany Hall and tried to corner the gold market. In 1873, his attempt to kidnap Lord Gordon-Gordon led to a diplomatic incident between the US and Canada.) Wright evidently didn’t lose his interest in sailing, however, as his comments on his arrest in New York in 1903 attest.
Courtroom sketch of The Whitaker Wright Trial, 1904
Richard Muir, WW’s counsel, had WW tried before a special jury at the Civil Law Courts, as he thought an inexperienced jury at the Bailey would get lost in the detail of the case and convict him on reputation. WW thus was spared the indignity of the dock, and sat like a civil litigant in the well of the Court, “a massive figure in all the dignity of flowing frock-coat, high collar, and the imperial beard which he had lately grown.”
The sentence was what he expected for, after his death, on his blotter were discovered the Roman number VII, with the word “intent.” The irony is that, had he been at the Bailey, suicide would have been harder to achieve, as he would have been searched and escorted straight from court by the police, and not taken to a private room for a cigar and a glass of whisky.
Dufferin being painted in the studio of Henrietta Rae, 1901
The Dufferin Memorial, by Frederick W Pomeroy, was unveiled outside Belfast City Hall in 1906.
At Dufferin’s feet, representing the foremost postings of his career, are a turbaned Indian warrior and a Canadian frontiersman. The Marquess is depicted in the robes of the Order of St Patrick below a canopy surmounted by the winged figure of Fame.
Chart of Witley Park, showing the Whitaker Wright mansion, prepared for Gerald Bentall, who acquired the estate after the fire. The submerged room and tunnel are shown on the east shore of Thursley Lake, with the fountain on the same axis, beyond it. Lutyens’ bathing house is on the north shore of Stable Lake, with the stables shown near the south east corner. The dolphin is at its eastern end.
The lake’s outflow is at top left. This drove a turbine, which pumped water over three quarters of a mile to a large reservoir at a high point beside Brook Lodge. The reservoir provided water under pressure to the fountain and to the fire systems in the house. Why they weren’t used in 1952 is a bit of a mystery.
The “Naked Ladies” of York House, Twickenham. acquired probably to decorate the cascade between the Stable Lake and the Thursley Lake, were sold to Sir Ratan Tata in 1906. This scion of the parsee Indian industrialist family had recently bought York House from Prince Philippe d’Orleans, Reputedly, he paid £600 for the Carrara marble statues. They were probably never sited at Lea Park as Ernest Cheal, who transported them to Twickenham, said he found them lying “in a heap” still in their packing cases. There were more but the group was broken up after Whitaker Wright’s death. The instructions for how they were to be assembled were also lost. There are various theories as to who the statues, which weigh up to 5 tons each, represent. When not called the “Naked Ladies”, they are usually referred to as Oceanids.
Witley Park’s Thursley Lodge in the 1920s and as it appears today. Note the change in gate superstructure.
Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, was born on midsummer’s day 1826 at the Barberino di Mugello outside Florence—the place to which his parents, Price and Helen Blackwood, had retreated in refuge from Price’s family, who so disapproved of the union that they had refused to attend the wedding.
Although they controlled two estates in County Down, including the family seat at Ballyleidy, the Blackwoods were more country squires than top-draw Irish nobility, and in the family only Sir Henry, one of Nelson’s comrades at Trafalgar, had any great claim to fame. Arguably, therefore, they were being over sensitive. The problem, however, was that Helen was the granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the comic playwright and persecutor of Warren Hastings, whose early meteoric rise in parliament had guttered into drunken failure and near bankruptcy in 1816.
To the Blackwoods, the Sheridans were on the climb and not to be trusted—a reputation that was cemented by the “shocking” marriage of Helen’s sister, Georgia, to Lord Seymour, heir of the Duke of Somerset, in 1830. The marriage of another sister, Caroline, to George Norton, the brother of Lord Grantley, proved a disaster and soon the news of her affair with the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, was the stuff of public scandal. Brother Brinsley had earlier administered another shock to society by eloping to Gretna Green with the daughter of Sir Colquhoun Grant, thereby securing a fortune.(1)
Price’s naval career peaked when he led the attack to force the passage of the Bocca Tigris on the Pearl River in September 1834, but his attempt to capitalize on this to build a political career ended in humiliation and his possible suicide only a few years later, in 1841. Left alone, Helen now had carte blanche to shape Frederick’s destiny and to restore the pride of the Sheridans. She had high ambitions for her son, and they were centered in England.
The first, obvious port of call was Eton, the nursery of Britain’s prime ministers, where Frederick became the close friend of both Robert Cecil (later Lord Salisbury) and John Woodehouse, (Lord Kimberley), scions of England’s aristocracy and their family estates. Although not brilliant, Frederick certainly had charm, and his talent for entertaining and speaking (he came to be known at school as the “Little Orator”) made him popular. In 1847, he rose to the presidency of the Oxford Union.
In the same year, Dufferin published a Narrative of a Journey from Oxford to Skibbereen, in which he bore personal witness to the horrors of the Irish Famine. His subsequent establishment (with £1,000 of his own limited resources) of a famine relief fund was a sincere gesture—and another early step in a public career.(2)
In 1849, Dufferin’s ever-ambitious mother used her connections with the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, to secure him a position at Queen Victoria’s court. His moving in new, elevated circles was to stimulate Dufferin to dreams of transforming Ballyleidy—now renamed Clandeboye—from a late Georgian “debased Hibernic” country house into a “Jacobethan” mansion, in the style of the Duke of Sutherland’s Dunrobin and the Duke of Argyll’s Inveraray.
Plans were prepared by the architect William Burn, but the cost was vastly beyond what Dufferin could afford and all that eventuated was “Helen’s Tower”, a gothic folly in the spirit of Sir Walter Scott, built in tribute to his mother. It took until 1861 to complete. At its heart, in a panelled chamber, is an inscription of a poem dedicated to her, which Dufferin commissioned from Tennyson.
A similar chivalric spirit led Dufferin to propose the tribute of a golden rose to settle a dispute with his Hamilton cousins over their claim to the Gate House at Killyleagh Castle, and to commission Benjamin Ferry to decorate a room at his home at Grosvenor Place in the “style of Edward IV.”
Ferry also had a hand in the design of the railway station built in the Clandeboye grounds at “Helen’s Bay”. From this, Dufferin built a stairway to an avenue below, that passed through a bridge designed like a medieval city gate and ran for three miles past open parkland and a new lake to the house. By the time all was finished, Dufferin had spent £70,000 in funds he could hardly afford. In 1847, his debts had reached £29,260. Yet it was not the end to his extravagance, for he was about to indulge in another pastime—adventure at sea.
In 1854, Dufferin borrowed £3,000 to buy an ocean-going schooner, the Foam, which he took to the Baltic. This was the time of the Crimean War and the British Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Napier, offered the voyager the opportunity to experience what it was like “to see a shot pass over him.” He went on board HMS Penelope, which promptly ran aground under the guns of the Bomarsund fort. After two hours in which she drew heavy fire, Dufferin reluctantly agreed to transfer to the Hecla:
I had just gone forward … when smash comes a round shot, striking the deck close by the starboard great gun, and covering me with a hail of splinters. The men were very angry at being exposed to fire in this way, and cursed Sir Charles for not covering them with one of his big block ships.
Not content with this, the next day, Dufferin’s party visited the trenches of the French army besieging Bomarsund. After stopping “to breathe and chaff the soldiers - shot, shell, and grape whizzing every now and then over our heads, and everybody laughing beneath”, they saw a white flag and walked straight up to the gate. Sharply, they were ordered back by a Russian officer who shouted the fort had not yet surrendered, and they regained cover under a “satisfactory” hail of balls and bullets. Eventually, the fort and its 2,000 men were carried. Dufferin set sail the next day and, after a month’s cruise, landed at Dunrobin in Scotland with “two beautiful field pieces” that he had won off the French admiral, and a young walrus he had bought on the homeward route.(3)
In 1856, Dufferin took the Foam on an expedition to Iceland, Jan Mayen Island and, eventually, Spitzbergen—which was almost as far north as any ship had, at that time, sailed. The publication of his account of the journey in Letters from High Latitudes in July 1857 made him quite a celebrity. He presented a copy bound in driftwood to his Queen and, later, when he passed through Berlin on a mission to Russia, it was only because of the reputation for intrepidity it had given him that Bismarck agreed to a meeting. To celebrate the journey, Dufferin placed two narwhal tusks at the foot of the stairway at Clandeboye. They are still there today—as are a model of the Foam, its cannon and the pelt of a polar bear in the hall. They represent the beginning of the transformation of the house’s interior into a kind of museum commemorating Dufferin’s extraordinary career.(4)
Flushed with his success, in 1858 Dufferin invested another £3,000 in a new 220-ton yacht, the Erminia, in which he took his mother, a crew, three dogs, one jackdaw, two parrots, a goat and a sheep on a cruise of the Mediterranean.
In Alexandria he had an audience with Said Pasha, the ruler of Egypt (“a good natured, irascible, bustling, childish man”, given “they say” to “the most infamous of practices”, who survived in power only by “allow(ing) everyone to cheat him.”) Thence Dufferin travelled to Deir-el-Bahri where he financed excavations, uncovering a cartouche of Tirhakah, a granite altar of Mentuhotep I, a statue of the god Amun and, sadly, but a toe from a statue Ramses II. (The complete bust proved immovable.) These too have found their place at Clandeboye—the altar now supporting the massive head of a rhino. (The Amun was sold in 1937 and its place at the top of the stairs taken by a Burmese Buddha, brought back from Mandalay in 1886.)(5)
As a result of his connections and his experiences in the Mediterranean, Dufferin was appointed emissary to Syria in 1860. There he established his diplomatic credentials by helping avert a civil war. His rewards were the KCB, an offer of the governorship of Bombay and the prospect of being viceroy “by forty.”
However, Dufferin chose to stay at home and, in the following spring, he married his cousin, Hariot Hamilton. A painting at Clandeboye shows them as newly-weds processing along an upper landing. The scene has hardly changed, even to the extent of the narwhal tusks showing above the tops of the stairs.
By 1864, Dufferin’s expenditure had been such that he was obliged to take on a £21,000 mortgage to keep afloat. Yet, he persisted with his grand schemes for remodelling Clandeboye—first in gothic (Benjamin Ferry) and then as a French chateau (William Lynn.) Inevitably, they were unrealistic.
In 1869, he finally settled for a more modest, but unusual, plan. Reversing the layout of the ground floor, he set an unobtrusive front door into the blank wall of what is still ostensibly the back of the house. Today, when this is opened to the visitor, he is greeted by a hall-cum-museum, its walls hung with weaponry. Beyond, a small staircase rises as in an ancient Egyptian tomb, leading the eye to where the statue of Amun would have once stood. It is a most impressive display.
Although this represented a significant scaling-back in Dufferin’s ambitions, it was not enough to stave off the inevitable. During the 1870’s he sold off 12,000 acres of land to local industrialists, but still he was left with debts of over £150,000. However, he was served a lifeline by the government. In 1872, Dufferin became Canada’s third Governor General and his diplomatic career was truly underway. With the post came a salary of £10,000, and an opportunity to indulge himself at the public expense. Dufferin became highly popular. Little wonder: the records at Clandeboye indicate that, between 1873 and 1878, he entertained no fewer than 35,838 people at dinners and balls. He also made several improvements to Rideau Hall, his official residence in Ottawa, adding the ballroom in 1873, the tent room in 1876 and—with a personal donation of $1,600 (later refunded)—a skating rink, which was made open to the public. For the inauguration of the tent room, a fancy dress ball was held for 1,500 guests.
On arrival in Canada, Dufferin had found Rideau Hall “hideous” and Ottawa little better, though he thought the gothic parliament then emerging from the mud was in rather better taste than its Westminster model. Quebec had made an altogether better impression. It took little, therefore, to persuade him to convert the old officers’ mess in the citadel into a summer residence overlooking the St Lawrence. It soon became a venue for multiple summer receptions.
There were some disappointments. When Dufferin heard of plans to destroy Quebec’s ancient walls, he opposed them, proposing instead the city be recreated as a “Canadian Carcasonne.” William Lynn was engaged. However, although he petitioned the Queen for cash, Dufferin failed to raise the necessary funds, and he had to settle for restoring the gateways and constructing the now famous Dufferin Terrace along the ramparts. In Dufferin’s judgement, it was important to protect French Quebec as a buffer against “the brutality of the John Bull element and the vulgarity of the emigrant classes” and, by the time of his departure, he felt he had “in great measure saved the English population from Yankification.” Old Quebec was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1985.(6)
After two years in St. Petersburg (1879-81) and three in Constantinople (1881-84), where he paved the way for Britain’s protectorate in Egypt (and commissioned Lynn to build a chapel a little like a cross between a tudor cottage and a cricket pavilion), Dufferin became Viceroy of India in 1884.
In addition to a tiger skin, which joined the polar bear on the hall floor, India supplied Clandeboye with much of the weaponry decorating its walls. The library houses a magnificent collection of photographs of the Raj at work, and of the annexation of Upper Burma. Conceivably, Dufferin also shipped home the day bed on which King Thibaw and Queen Supayalat were photographed shortly before their deposition. More than that, however, India was to provide Dufferin with the object of his dreams: a great house, built not in County Down but at Simla, in the foothills of the Himalaya.
The annual migration of the government of India, over 1,200 miles and to an altitude of 7,000 feet, to escape the heat of Calcutta, had started some 20 years before Dufferin’s arrival. Not everyone thought it an excellent idea. Kipling, for one, questioned the wisdom of retreating to a place that was 100 miles from the nearest railway, “on the wrong side of an irresponsible river” and, in the event of an emergency, “separated by a month’s sea voyage” from the rest of India.
The idea had been that of John Lawrence, Viceroy from 1864 to 1869. Simla suited his preoccupation with the Punjab and NWFP, and he claimed he achieved more in one day there than he did in five on the eviscerating plains below. (That the rain falling on one side of the ridge reached the Arabian Sea via the Sutlej and Indus and, on the other, followed the Ganges to the Bay of Bengal, also had a romantic appeal.) Others were more principled. Never mind that the Bengal climate had killed off three consecutive Governors General, argued General Sir Henry Durand, “it was a condition on which India had been won and could only be kept, that men on high place must risk health and life in the execution of duty.” (Durand was killed executing “his duty” when an elephant on which he was processing charged an arch too low for his howdah.)(7)
Dufferin was good enough to concede it was “too absurd” that the capital of India should be “hanging by its eyelids to the side of a hill”, yet he was no more capable than his predecessors of resisting the idea, and it also gave him a chance to build the grand seat he had been unable to create at Clandeboye. For, thus far, the Viceroys had had to make do with what was really a very modest residence. It went by the ironic name of “Peterhof” and was described by Lady Dufferin as a “cottage”, in which she could entertain only twenty-three people comfortably. In 1876, Lord Lytton called it “a sort of pigstye.” (It was Lytton who had declared Victoria Empress of India, and being obliged to hold summer Durbars of the Indian princes in a marquee on the lawn did not suit his style.)
For a while, Dufferin toyed with the idea of enlarging Peterhoff but, in the end, he decided that it was better to begin afresh. He engaged the local Superintendent of Works, Mr H Irwin, and Captain HH Cole of the Royal Engineers to produce a suitable proposal, but involved himself intimately in the details of their designs. For two summer seasons, to the irritation of many, he visited the building site almost every morning and evening to offer his advice.
Subsequent Viceroys, and their wives, were not always impressed by the result. To Lord Lansdowne, Dufferin’s successor, who welcomed the English homeliness of it, the “whole arrangement of the rooms and anatomy of the building (tell) a tale of amateur architecture”. Lady Curzon, an American, was quite disparaging. “A Minneapolis millionaire would revel in it”, she smirked. Certainly it incorporated many novel features—an indoor tennis court, white tiled kitchens in the basement, and electric lights. Lady Dufferin found it “quite a pleasure to go around one’s room touching a button here and there.” Mockingly, she wondered what the dhobies would make of the laundry: “Now they will be condemned to warm water and soap” rather than “flog and batter our wretched garments against the hard stones until they think them clean.” The furnishing was by Maples of London.
Its design recalls several of Dufferin’s earlier ideas for Clandeboye: Elizabethan, with Jacobean turrets, multiple balconies and heraldic crests and motifs. The highlight of the interior is a huge hall in teak, walnut and deodar, with a three-storey gallery and staircase, and a chimney that reaches the full height of the house. The dining room sat nearly seventy. In her 1939 account, Audrey Harris described sitting at a table that “glowed into infinity in its red-shaded candle light” and wondering if the silver urns across its length contained the ashes of former viceroys.
In keeping with its progenitor, this was a project with a large budget. It cost £100,000. Dufferin claimed that it was “beautiful, comfortable (and) not too big” and yet it was still able to accommodate 800 guests for balls and parties. Sir Richard Cross, the Secretary of State at the India Office, who had to foot the bill, was presumably less than convinced by the modesty of Dufferin’s conception.(8)
After stints in Rome and Paris, Dufferin retired from the diplomatic service in 1896. The Viceregal Lodge had sated his building ambitions, but a pension of £1,700 pa. was hardly up to his lifestyle. The solution lay in directorships in the City. And, for companies seeking the endorsement of a highly respected celebrity, there were few better catches available than the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.
Thus, in 1897, Dufferin was offered the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation. To ensure it was an offer he could not refuse, Dufferin was provided with a signing on fee (amount undisclosed), an annual salary of £3,000, and a dispensation from the need to attend board meetings. The London and Globe was the creation of James Whitaker Wright, one of the City’s greatest plutocrats, who had made a fortune in mining. Certainly he lacked pedigree but, Dufferin was seduced by his reputation as a Croesus, by his parties at Lea Park, his magnificent estate in Surrey, and by sailing trips aboard the Sybarita, the yacht that had raced the Kaiser’s Meteor at Cowes. He let down his guard. Not only did he accept the offer, he also invested substantial sums of capital in this and Whitaker Wright’s other companies. It proved a disastrous decision. It is time to tell something of the Whitaker Wright story and of its spectacular unraveling.
Not a great deal is known of Whitaker Wright’s early life and some of such evidence as there is, is contradictory. Thus, his Witley gravestone says he was born in Prestbury, Cheshire, but his birth certificate says he was born in Stafford in 1846, to James Wright, a Methodist minister, and to Matilda Wright, nee Whittaker. By the time of the 1871 census, Matilda had become a widow keeping a grocer’s shop in Birmingham. In this there is no mention of Whitaker Wright himself, as he had moved to the United States in, or around, 1867 where he used his training in inorganic chemistry (provenance unclear) to set himself up as an assayer in Pennsylvania.(9)
Assaying provided an entry for speculating in undeveloped mines and, though he started with just a few dollars, Whitaker Wright says he soon found he “was dealing in amounts that made a profit worthwhile.” Sir Richard Muir—who, as Whitaker Wright’s defence counsel, got to know him well—claims that, by 1877, he was already a millionaire. It was, he says, an eventful life:
Once, while prospecting in Idaho, near the Snake River, where the Indians were on the war path, an Indian and his wife pitched their tents near his hut and he paid them a call. He gave the woman a plug of tobacco, an act which probably saved his life, for shortly afterwards a war party of Indians came to his shanty to kill him, but the squaw who had received the tobacco induced them to leave. They proceeded down the river, and massacred three of Whitaker Wright’s men.
It’s a “charming” story and, true or no, it’s the sort of thing that helped to build up the Whitaker Wright mystique—the prospector who rolled up his sleeves and took significant risks to build his fortune.
By the turn of the next decade, Whitaker Wright had moved to Leadville, Colorado, where he bought the Denver City mine, merged it with some other properties, and floated the Denver City Consolidated Silver Mining Company. Next, he moved to Philadelphia, where he promoted the Colorado Coal and Iron Company and the Sierra Grande Silver Mining Company, with assets in New Mexico’s Lake Valley. The last has a sniff of the Snake Valley about it. On the surface, there were encouraging signs, but the mine itself proved disappointing. The Apaches were giving trouble and, in a raid in 1881, killed George Daly, the mine’s manager. Whitaker Wright recalled:
I was on my way back to the mines at that time and was given an account by my friend, General “Phil” Sheridan. Meanwhile the work at the mines had been continued under the direction of a foreman and, just as the body of my superintendent was being brought into his bungalow in the camp, a body of ore was penetrated which ran $10,000 to the ton, and enabled us to pay dividends of $10,000 a month for a long time.
Needless to say, by the time the ore ran out, Whitaker Wright had sold. Then, in a manner that remains a little obscure, he had a bad run of luck. The 1912 supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography says “he had resolved to retire from business” but that “his American career ended disastrously, owing to the failure of the Gunnison Iron and Coal Company, in which he was largely involved, and the great depreciation in other securities.”
This was in 1889, a bad year for markets. However, Whitaker Wright was by no means wiped out. He returned to England where, in 1890, he acquired Witley Park, a farm near Lea Park in Surrey, from the Earl of Derby. In 1894, he bought Lea Park House from WH Stone, a former MP for Portsmouth and, by 1897, he had added the manor of Witley and the estate of Lea Park, and was embarking on a series of extravagant embellishments.
To the original manor house Whitaker Wright added two new wings, one containing an observatory, the other a palm house. It is said that, at one point, there were 600 men working on the house alone and that craftsmen brought from Italy took 2 ½ years to carry out the carvings in a single room. In the grounds, which were enclosed by an 8ft high wall about 4 miles long, advantage was made of the Brook stream to create three artificial lakes—a process that necessitated the re-siting of some low hills that blocked the view from the house, and the labour of a further 3,000 men. The lakes covered an area of over 25 acres and were on three levels, with the largest (and lowest) being between the other two. This meant that the flow of water from the Upper Lake was piped through a 4ft diameter steel pipe that extended for about 1,000 yards (900 metres) along the Thursley Lake shore, before debouching into the Stable Lake through the mouth of a huge ornamental dolphin.
Whitaker Wright had spotted the dolphin in Italy. He shipped it to south coast only to be told there were no railway wagons large enough to transport it. Undaunted, he used his own traction engines to haul the monster to his estate. The story goes that, it was so vast that it wouldn’t fit beneath one of the railway bridges crossing the way and the road had to be dug out to get it through.
Some other statues in Carrara marble, now known as “The Naked Ladies” of York House in Twickenham, and thought variously to portray a group at the birth of Venus, or some naiads or the Oceanids, were also acquired—probably to decorate the cascade between the Stable Lake and Thursley Lake. It seems that they were never installed, as they were said by the York House contractor still to be in their packing cases when he came to collect them in 1906. Since several of them weighed over 5 tons, deploying them would have been no easy task.
Later a boathouse and a bathing pavilion designed (as early commissions) by Edwin Lutyens, were added, but the piece de resistance, for which Witley Park became best known, was the “submerged room” under the lake. It was approached through a tunnel and had an anteroom “with glass skylights like giant portholes” which gave access to a platform above, offering a view back to the house.
The room is not actually that big, but its scale was magnified by reputation to that of a ballroom, where dancers could pause for breath and look up at the carp that had been observing their pirouettes through the glass dome. (10)
How could all this be afforded? The answer was that Whitaker Wright was riding the explosion in mining stocks on the London stock exchange—in the early 1890’s, there were as many as 800 listed there. Investors were excited, but confused. They needed an “old hand” to guide them, and Whitaker Wright was happy to step into the role.
His first forays were the West Australian Exploring and Finance Corporation (1894) and the London and Globe Finance Corporation (1895). In March 1897, these were merged into the “New Globe” which was soon spawning companies of its own, such as The British and American Corporation (in the autumn of 1897) and The Standard Exploration Company (in early 1898.)
As long as the market was rising, Whitaker Wright could do no wrong, and Dufferin was happy to follow on his coat tails. At the end of September 1899, New Globe reported profits of £483,000 and cash balance of £534,455—which Dufferin, in a speech written by Whitaker Wright, was happy to declare was powerful evidence of its prosperity. In the following year, profits were £463,272 and, although the cash balance had fallen to £113,671, the company could boast investments in other companies worth £2,332,632—a figure which, the Board declared, was a conservative estimate, that factored in an extra provision of £1mn for possible depreciation.
That was at the AGM on December 17th, and yet, just ten days later, New Globe collapsed, taking with it no fewer than thirteen firms on the Stock Exchange. It was a sensation. As The Times rather laconically put it, “The last Settlement of the century has certainly terminated in a deplorable manner.”
The immediate cause was a battle for control over Lake View Consols., a subsidiary of New Globe that owned a gold mine in Western Australia. A peaking in gold production at the mine and the onset of the Boer War, which depressed mining stocks generally, provided an opportunity for a bear raid. In quick order, Lake View Consols fell from £28/share to just £8/share. New Globe stepped in to shore up the price, but
Then, with white faces, the brokers came flying back from their banks with the news that the cheques of four-five-six firms had been returned to the payees! All the returned cheques emanated from firms closely connected with the London Globe division. One of them, the news of whose trouble caused the greatest astonishment, was a firm of old-fashioned brokers, whose name has been to conjure with for solidity.(11)
Part of the problem was that New Globe had tied up capital in the development of the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (later London’s Bakerloo Line). Had New Globe survived, it would have proved one of its better investments, but now it needed the cash, and it was unable to extract it in time.
At a meeting of the shareholders on 9th January 1901, Dufferin confessed he knew little about what was going on, and indeed little about finance at all, although he impressed some by offering to indemnify the smaller losses of others, despite suffering his own. Whitaker Wright failed to win support for his proposed scheme of reconstruction, but did persuade the shareholders to accept a voluntary liquidation. This avoided the need for external scrutiny of the directors’ actions.(12)
Not everyone was convinced of the justice of this approach. The Times, in particular, was hostile:
We do not believe that the real interest of creditors, shareholders or the public will be served by allowing Whitaker Wright to raise five shillings, or any other sum per share, and continue to carry on this moribund and mischievous concern.
Then, over the summer, the London and Globe, the British America, Standard Exploration and the two Le Roys went into compulsory liquidation. The losses were huge. Five years later, the receiver reported that, even after its assets had been liquidated, the London and Globe still owed £2.4mn. Eventually, in December 1901, the order was issued for a receiver’s examination.
When confronted, Whitaker Wright objected strongly to the suggestion that the assets of New Globe had been “artificially” inflated in the 1900 balance sheet. He argued that it was his duty to present the company in the best possible light. Asked why a liability of £150,000 had escaped the books, he answered the accountant had put the contract notes in a drawer and forgotten about them, something for which he could hardly be held responsible. When it was revealed shares in Loddon Valley had been sold to the brother-in-law of the owner of the Financial Times on 26th November for £84,562 and repurchased on the following day for £93,537, he denied it was a bribe, adding that the press took little interest in financial matters unless they were directly involved. (As the receiver commented, their interest evidently didn’t need to be very profound.)(13)
The evidence suggesting fraud was compelling, but the Attorney General resisted calls to prosecute, arguing the Companies Act (which was tightened in the following year) did not permit it. A petition was raised on the stock exchange and a £25,000 fund raised. Arnold Wright, an author who lost some of his own money in the collapse, claimed the directors were hiding behind members of the royal family, adding that “a royal duke” had money in the concern and that “certain “hangers-on at court” were using the name of the King and others for the purpose of hiding their own nefarious deeds.”
George Lambert, the Liberal MP, echoed this strain in Parliament. “It has been stated”, he said, “that the reason why a public prosecution has not taken place is that certain exalted personages have been mixed up in these matters.” “I do not believe a word of that”, he claimed, but he made his point by drawing the attention to the Globe’s “aristocratic directorate, including two lords and a baronet.”
The majesty of the law should not be stern in the case of the poor, and doubtful and hesitating in the case of the rich. There have been aristocratic gentlemen mixed up in this affair. I am very sorry for it, but if men with noble names allow themselves to be connected with companies they must take the consequences of their action. If they use their names as bird-lime for the unwary investor they must bear the responsibility, as they draw the salaries … Fraud and falsification have been openly alleged. Either these directors are much-maligned men or they deserve punishment, and I ask the Attorney General to allow a jury of twelve British men to decide that question.
The Attorney General protested. He did not appreciate insinuations against Lord Dufferin and other members of the board. But he conceded there had been transactions at London and Globe that “no one for a moment will defend”, “that the persons concerned in them deserve very severe judgment to be passed on them” and that the transactions “should be most thoroughly probed.” At last, on March 10th 1903, it was decided to charge Whitaker Wright under the Larceny Act of 1861.(14)
By then, Dufferin was dead. “When the crash came”, The New York Tribune reported, “Lord Dufferin was severely censured for his connections with the Wright companies, but in a frank speech to the stockholders of the London and Globe he declared his position and won the sympathy of the country. His wealth, at some time large, was believed to have been swallowed up in these companies. His death is believed to have been hastened by these financial troubles.”(15)
Whitaker Wright ran away to Paris. Then, the American press had a field day when he and his niece turned up in New York on board the SS La Lorraine, under the names of Mr and Mrs Andreoni. “GOT WHITAKER RIGHT HERE” thundered the NY Sun on March 16th. “LONDON’S FUGITIVE PROMOTER NABBED ON LA LORRAINE.” The New York Tribune reported Whitaker Wright “had tried to conceal his movements by the redirection of his luggage”, but that he “was traced to Paris by the banknotes which he cashed there at the offices of the French Steamship Line.” London had immediately sent an extradition request with a detailed description.
There was no mistaking him. “That’s our man, all right”, said one detective to another, “but he doesn’t look much like ready money.” (This from The NY Sun, which reported Wright was charged with “swindling shareholders of sums aggregating … anywhere between $75,000,000 and $150,000,000.”)
Whitaker Wright responded calmly.
“I will of course go along with you, but the affair in connection with which I am arrested was a legitimate business transaction and I supposed it had all been settled in Parliament. Let us get away with as little notice as possible and see to it that the newspapers don’t get hold of it.”
He claimed the timing of his departure had been a coincidence. Whilst in Paris, he had received a telegram from British America asking him to look at some mining properties. He hadn’t intended to visit the US until the autumn “when I had planned to see the yacht races”, but then he thought “an ocean voyage might act as a bracer.” Once his troubles were passed, he had “a notion” that he might still see the races “and I don’t mind telling you that I think the (America’s) Cup will be lifted. The latest Shamrock will be a wonder.” As for travelling under the name of Andreoni, it was the name of the agent who had made the booking. He had had it corrected as soon as he saw the passenger list.
Mrs Wright, who remained in the UK, told the Tribune she believed he was on the way to Egypt “the doctors having declared that a rest was imperative. … His one desire has been to do something for the unfortunate shareholders and the worry told severely on his health.”
She added that, although she was an American citizen, her husband was not. “He has always been thoroughly English, much to my disgust. If he had been an American he would have been properly protected.” In Wright’s own statement, reported in the Tribune, he said he had taken American citizenship at the time of his wedding. The trial began in January 1904.(16)
The nub of the case lay in the balance sheets of 1899 and 1900. First, the cash balance of £534,455 in 1899. The day before the cut off date it had been £89,000. Where had the extra come from? £158,424 from the sale of Lake View Consols to Standard, (at £23/share instead of the £8/share market price.) £70,000 more from a paper sale to Standard of shares in International Nickel. There had also been the transfer of liabilities, yet the annual report had said “more than the whole amount to the credit of the profit and loss is in cash, a much stronger position than existed last year.”
The 1900 balance sheet date had been put back from 30th September to 5th December. Had the correct date been used, the P&L would have shown a loss of £1.6mn instead of a £463,232 profit. Whitaker Wright admitted a “slip” when he had told Dufferin the profit had been calculated after a deduction of £500,000 from the market value of shares. (He should have said “cost or par value.”). It had been another “slip of the tongue” when he had said that the accounting policy was the lower of cost or market value. In fact, the Standard shares had been priced at 20/3d instead of their 9/9d actual price. “To save shareholders from the bears”, £1,603,000 of liabilities to stockbrokers had been transferred to Standard, which then had but £200 at the bank and which, when it came to grief on 28th December, was able to return just seven pence in the pound to its creditors.
Whitaker Wright had no chance. The jury took just an hour to reach its verdict. Sentenced to seven years penal servitude, he was escorted to a side room of the court, where he lit a cigar and, taking a glass of whisky, swallowed a cyanide tablet that he had kept at the back of his tongue. A fully loaded revolver was also found in his coat pocket.
“But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now he lies there
And none so poor to do him reverence.”
And yet this is not quite true, for at his funeral in Witley, the village windows were shuttered as a mark of respect. “Villagers came from far and near (and) carried in their hands bunches of violets from the neighbouring lanes and copses. … After the coffin of light polished oak had been lowered into the grave these simple blossoms were laid reverently on the mound which marks the earthly resting place.” Whitaker Wright’s original epitaph, since removed, said simply, “He loved the poor.”(17)
Dufferin never recovered from his reverse. He felt it extra painfully because it came just as he was starting to enjoy the fruits of real money for the first time. At the end of the 1890’s he bought two farms adjoining Clandeboye and a luxury yacht, which he called Brunhilde. He wrote to Ronald Munro-Ferguson, later a Governor of Australia, who had married his daughter Helen, “we must build adjoining palaces in Park Lane as soon as our fortunes are made.”
Another “terrible blow” was the death of his son, Archie, in the Boer War, in January 1900—even if comfort could be taken from the knowledge “the poor boy died in the discharge of his duty to his Queen and country … instead of perishing by fever in one of our many unsuccessful engagements.”(18) Then, in December, Dufferin heard that a second son, Freddie, had been badly wounded at Gelegfontein. He and his wife booked a passage to South Africa just two days before the bankruptcy of the Globe was declared. To his credit, Dufferin had it cancelled so that he could face the shareholders.
Some time afterwards, Sir Edward Grey wrote to Helen Munro-Ferguson, to say “The knowledge of the spirit in which Lord D. faced all the troubles of the last few years has stirred me very much … Adversity set (his qualities) in relief, and made one see how strong they were, and how fine-tempered the metal.” However, Dufferin had been right to say that the failure of the Globe was “an indescribable calamity which will cast a cloud over the remainder of my life.” Instead of retirement ease at Clandeboye, he was obliged to hock family assets, and even considered selling the house. Richard Brindsley Sheridan’s inglorious end cannot have been far from his mind.
In February 1902, “Being, as the doctors seem to say, on my death-bed”, Dufferin wrote a last letter to Lord Salsibury, his friend from Eton. “I do not think you ever knew how much I liked you from the time you were a thin, frail, little lower boy at Cookesley’s, even then writing, as my father used to say, such sweet essays. This is all I have the strength to say. Good-bye and God bless you.” He died three days later.(19)
Happily Clandeboye survived. Lea Park has not fared as well.
After Wright’s suicide, his wife lived on at the Parsonage, one of the farms on the estate. It was run by her son Wright Jnr. Lea Park mansion was put up for sale in July 1904. It found no buyer, although 44 out of 50 lots of the estate were sold in October 1905 for £50,120. The Manor of Witley was bought by a Mr Prichard in 1906 for £1,000. Much of the land on Hindhead Common, Witley Common and Thursley Common was sold to the National Trust, of which Dufferin had been president.
Lea Park was eventually bought by Lord Pirrie, the chairman of Harland and Wolff, in 1909. In 1912, Wright Jnr was married, and Pirrie bought the Parsonage farm. He converted much of the estate into a deer park, fenced with iron fences and gates, many of which are in situ a hundred years later.(20)
In the 1920s, the estate was renamed “Witley Park” by Sir John Leigh, a cotton magnate. In May 1952, it was sold to Mr Ronald Huggett. The purchase was reported in The Truth, a Melbourne tabloid, in June of that year. Under the sub-title “The Meat Pie King Moves into Aladdin’s Palace”, it claimed:
Portly, bewhiskered Ronald J, Huggett, 39-years-old huntsman, amateur racing driver and king of Britain’s canned meat industry, caused more than a momentary stir recently when he handed over a fortune in exchange for an Aladdin’s palace in the heart of the Surrey countryside. Shortly after the purchase he clambered from a £3,000 carnation-coloured sports car and told a newspaper reporter “The purchase has left me a poor man, but I believe that to get something out of life you must put something into it .….
I want to transform this playground of bygone days into a food producing unit—create a modern business to meet present-day requirements.” …. And the house itself ? “First, I shall get rid of the monstrosities … even if it means pulling down a third of the structure.” Down will come the circular glass roof of the 92ft x 42ft winter garden, where Whitaker Wright once contemplated his home-grown palm trees. “It may be suitable for Kew Gardens,” said Mr Huggett, “but not for a private home.” ….
On the east wing, a half-timbered Elizabethan-style structure will be torn down and modernized. Out will go the massive quadrigas in white Roman marble, and Moorish arches built for posterity by an army of 2,900 workmen, many of them from Italy.
Will he preserve the glass-walled underwater billiards room that Whitaker Wright built on the bed of the lake ? It was there that Wright, who finally sought peace with a phial of poison after a penal sentence in 1904, used to pause between shots to observe his unrivalled stock of fish. … “To demolish the passage and the room would be a major operation,” said Mr Huggett, “so they must stay”. …
“We shall need only 10 to 12 bedrooms,” said Mr Huggett, thinking of the housekeeping problem for his 24-years-old wife Mary. So at least 25 bedrooms, once tended by some of the 77 servants employed at Witley Park, will vanish. … “My ambition is to make Witley Park one of the most beautiful residences in the country. … It will be smaller when I have finished … but beautiful.”(21)
Unfortunately, Mr Hugget only achieved half of his ambition. In the early hours of 10th October, a fire gutted the north wing of the house.
Imbibers in Brook’s Dog and Pheasant have been known to question why neither owner nor any staff were at the house that night, why the fire systems were ineffective and to suggest a scam, but it’s not clear their theories were ever tested. The house was demolished in 1954. We can console ourselves with the thought that the “submerged room”, the stables-cum-garage and the lodges around the estate survived Huggett’s axe and that, after a period of 50 years, a new house has been built on the site of the old.
As one whose family has lived on the fringes of Witley Park since the 1930s (I recall visiting the underwater “ballroom” in my youth), I have long been familiar with the outline of the Whitaker Wright story. The connection with Dufferin was suggested by an episode of the BBC series The English Country House Revealed on Clandeboye. This can be seen on Youtube.
For the “building dreams” of Dufferin, I have drawn on Dan Cruikshank’s TV programme, its accompanying book, Andrew Gailley’s biography, The Lost Imperialist (John Murray, 2015), the biography by Sir Alfred Lyall (1905) and two articles by Mark Bence-Jones, which appeared in Country Life in October 1970.
For information on Witley Park, I am most indebted to the staff of the Godalming Museum in Surrey, and to Mr Martin Brown, whose family owned the estate in the 1990s. I also have to thank Mr Rick Ingrams, who very kindly let me photograph a few of his extensive private collection of historic postcards of Witley and its environs, including Lea Park.
For Whitaker Wright, Lord Reading and His Cases, by Derek Walker-Smith (Macmillan 1934), Michael Gilbert’s Fraudsters, Six Against the Law (Constable 1986), and Sir Richard Muir’s Memoirs of a Public Prosecutor, edited by S Felstead (Bodley Head 1927) have been useful. An unpublished talk by Jeremy Mount of Athabasca University, The Shadows Flee Away (1992), offers some extra sources, particularly in the US and UK press. This is available at the Godalming Museum.
(1)In May 1836, Creevey wrote to a friend of a dinner party at which “A flock of admirers surrounded the three neat’uns – the sisters Norton, Blackwood and Seymour. I am affraid it is too good fun to be true that old Colhoun Grant is to prosecute these sisters for a conspiracy in robbing him of his Daughter for the benefit of their Brother, but they say it is true. I am glad the young gentleman’s name is really Brinsley; it keeps alive the talent of the family name …” John Gore (ed.), Creevey’s Life and Times, (John Murray,1934) pp.407-8
(2)At the time of Dufferin’s inheritance in 1841, the 14,000 acres in his estates in commanded £18,000 in rents However, his tenants were £30,000 in arrears and he had an obligation to pay £30,000 in annuities to his family.
The “Narrative” is short (23 pages), available on line, and still affecting. Thus: “We learned that the population of the parish is about 20,000; that the proportion of deaths had risen from 3 to upwards of 100; that the Union was crammed with far greater numbers than it was ever intended to contain; that generally there were three and four in each bed, a man recovering lying between two others in the height of raging fever; and that even still they were compelled to suffer multitudes to lie on the damp mud floor of their own cottages, the only alleviation being, that the frequency of deaths made continual room for new inmates. Some had even died in this uncared-for condition, and their dead bodies had lain putrifying in the midst of the sick remnant of their families, none strong enough to remove them, until the rats and decay made it difficult to recognize that they had been human beings.” (pp.10-11)
(3)For the incident at Bomarsund, see Lyall’s biography, vol I, pages 78-83
(4)For the anecdotes about Queen Victoria and Bismarck, see Gailley, page 71
It gave Dufferin pleasure to include in an appendix to Letters a French account of how Prince Louis Napoleon, then planning a survey of Jan Mayen in his pleasure boat Reine Hortense, took the Foam in tow. They left Reykjavik on 7th July 1856, “The little English schooner following us bravely; bounding in our track, and avoiding, only by constant watchfulness and incessant attention to the helm, the icebergs that we had cleared.” By 11th July, the ice field “stretched as far as the eye could reach” and the Prince gave up his attempt. The account continues: “A telegraphic signal acquainted Lord Dufferin with our determination. Almost immediately, the young Lord sent on board us a tin box, with two letters, one for his mother, and one for our commander. In the latter he stated that, finding himself … master of his own movements, he preferred continuing his voyage alone ... The two ropes that united the vessels were then cast off, a farewell hurrah was given, and in a moment the English schooner was lost in the fog.” Dufferin’s friends were not slow to pick up the message. GW. Dasent wrote: “When I think of what you did and the French did not do (it is) a simple tale of old Viking daring and doughtiness.” (Gailley, p.69).
Dufferin’s account of an occasion of “Scandinavian skoal-drinking” at Government House, Reykjavik, also suggests a Viking’s tolerance of alcohol. “After having exchanged a dozen rounds of sherry and champagne with my neighbours, I pretended not to observe that my glass had been refilled … Then came over me a horrid wicked feeling. What if I should endeavor to floor the Governor! … So, with a devil glittering in my left eye, I winked defiance right and left, and away we went at it again for another five-and-forty minutes … It is true I did not feel comfortable; but it was in the neighbourhood of my waistcoat, not my head, I suffered … guess then my horror, when the Doctor, shouting his favourite dogma, by way of battle cry, “Si trigintis guttis, morbum curare velis, erras,” gave the signal for an unexpected onslaught, and the twenty guests poured down on me in succession.” The night ended with the party hunting rabbits on a nearby island: “They were quite white, without ears, and with scarlet noses. I made several desperate attempts to catch these singular animals, but …. (they) made unto themselves wings and literally flew away ! …. With some difficulty we managed to catch one or two …. They bit and scratched like tiger cats, and screamed like parrots; indeed …. I am obliged to confess that they assumed the appearance of birds, which may perhaps account for their powers of flight.” Puffins ! (Letters from High Latitudes, pp. 39-44)
(5)For the Pasha, Gailley pages 75-76. For the excavations at Deir-el-Bahri, see Dan Cruikshank’s book The Country House Revealed, pages 195-198
(6)This essay necessarily glosses over Dufferin’s achievements as Governor General, which were considerable. For a detailed account see Gailey, chapters 13 to 16. Cruikshank provides a good summary on pages 213 to 219 of his book.
(7)For the background on Indian Hill Stations, see David Gilmour, The Ruling Caste, John Murray pp.223-228. Simla, The Summer Capital of British India, by Raaja Bhasin (Rupa Publications, 2011) gives a full history, as does Simla, Past and Present by Edward J Buck (Thacker, Spink & Co, 1904.). The second is available online.
(8)For Dufferin’s Simla, see Gailley , chapter 27, Lady Dufferin, Our Viceregal Life, vol. I, pp 130ff (first impressions), vol ii, p. 294ff (moving into the Viceregal Lodge), Rupa (chapter 4) and Ashley Jackson, Buildings of Empire, (Oxford 2013), chapter 7. Although her husband welcomed the house during the War as “an ideal venue for quiet, calm deliberation”, Edwina Mountbatten shared Lady Curzon’s opinion, but with less humour. She called it “hideous, bogus English Baronial, and Hollywood’s idea of a Viceregal Lodge.” Robert Fermor-Hesketh in his Architecture of the British Empire, thought it “an uninspiring, grey stone Elizabethan-style house. It looks and feels like a hotel in Peebleshire. Inside the viceroys entertained in a suite of Jacobean-type rooms, ideally suited to performance of Gilbert and Sullivan.” Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922, thought it like “a Scottish hydro – the same sort of appearance, the same sort of architecture, the same sort of equipment of tennis lawns and sticky courts.” Others were much more forgiving, however, and very few (even Lady Curzon) were willing to dispute the quality of the view.
(9)For WWs family background and early history, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Ann Laver of the Godalming Museum Library. She says that Whitaker Wright’s sister joined him in Pennsylvania some time between 1871 and 1878. We know this because she married a James A Brown in Philadelphia on 23rd April 1878, little more than a fortnight before Whitaker Wright himself married Anna Weightman, on 10th May. The 1880 census says that Anna was then aged nineteen and that they had a daughter, Mabel, aged two months (as well as two Irish servants.) There is no subsequent mention of Mabel, and we can assume she died young. Sir Richard Muir says in his account: “Three children were born and died in that city, and he erected a tomb to their memory in the local cemetery which stands to this day.”
(10)Ann Laver, of Godalming Museum, and Mr Martin Brown have been my chief sources of information on the acquisition and embellishment of Witley Park. See also The Fall of a Midas, by David Mckie, which was published in The Guardian on 2nd February 2004. LW Bromley’s article Vanishing Pomp of Witley Park, in The Surrey Times and Weekly Press for 16th January 1954, contains an interesting description of the house in its ruined state. A large mound made from the spoil generated from the landscaping of the gardens can still clearly be seen on Witley Common, on the other side of Lea Coach Road from Milford Lodge and Thursley Lodge. My thanks to Mr Hugh Turrall-Clarke of Godalming Museum, who alerted me to the connection with the Naked Ladies of York House.
(11)“City Notes; Woeful Australians”, Pall Mall Gazette, 29th December 1900.
(12)For the meeting of shareholders, see Lord Reading and His Cases, by Derek Walker-Smith (Macmillan, 1934), page 137 and Andrew Gailey, The Lost Imperialist, pages 337-340. After the meeting, Dufferin wrote to Sir Richard Garnett “anything more generous than the conduct of our shareholders you cannot imagine. Instead of tearing me to pieces, as I expected, the two thousand gentlemen assembled in Cannon Street received me as if I had been Lord Roberts. One is proud of such an incident for the sake of human nature.” Quoted in Sir Alfred Lyall’s 1905 biography, vol II, page 305. This also mentions one of Dufferin’s offers of compensation.
(13)Michael Gilbert, Fraudsters, page 32. One of the Globe directors, General Gough-Calthorpe—echoing Dufferin’s earlier confession to the shareholders—admitted to the receiver “I don’t suppose I would have understood what was happening even if it had been explained to me. It was a matter of City Finance.” The receiver pointed out that he was a director of a company engaged in City Finance. Had he no idea of his duty? The General replied, “As far as I could ascertain, it was to sign my name many thousands of times on share certificates.” (page 24)
(14)Arnold White’s claims were reported in the New York Tribune on 16th March 1903. This can be accessed on line. Lambert’s speech and the Attorney General’s response are reported in Hansard for 19th February 1903. In support of the Attorney General, the Solicitor General commented, “It is said that Mr Whitaker Wright published a false balance sheet. I believe that he did. I think that it is an admitted fact that this was done; but will anyone get up and say that a man can be prosecuted because he published a false balance sheet?” (Lord Reading and His Cases, page 137)
(15)The Times was rather less forgiving than the New York Tribune. “What shocked the country”, it said, “was not the collapse of an ordinary gambling transaction, but the fact that the proceedings of those who entered upon it were sheltered by a great name.” They had little sympathy for his financial naivety, or his losses. “A pilot who is unskilled and incapable of bringing the ship into port is not to be excused for accepting duties he cannot fulfill because he is ready to go down bravely with the others if he runs the vessel on a rock.” (The Times, 24th December 1902 and 29th December 1902)
(16)The reports of the NY Sun and Tribune are available on line. On 18th March, outside the Ludlow Street Jail, Whitaker Wright said it was “a cruel shame” it had been suggested the lady who had accompanied him on his journey was not his niece. Miss Browne claimed £600 of the £700 in Bank of England notes taken from Wright actually belonged to her. Sir Percy Sanderson, the British Consul-General, argued they probably belonged to the creditors, but the Commissioner was more sympathetic, and “was convinced that £100 of the £600 she asked for she had really saved from her pocket money.” It was decided that the numbers on the other notes should be cabled to London for checking.
(17)The quotation from Shakespeare was suggested by the end of the account of the trial in Lord Reading and his Cases. The description of the funeral is from the Morning Post, and drawn from Michael Gilbert’s Fraudsters. The original epitaph was engraved on a large gothic memorial stone, which stood at the back of the grave. As AR Hope Moncrieff noted in his 1906 book on Surrey, it is rather suggestive of the career of Robin Hood. The current inscription is “Until the day break and the shadows flee away.” Perhaps the change was made when Ann was buried next to her husband on 12th August 1931.
(18)Letter of 13th April 1900 to Capt. Raymond Rogers, of US Naval Intelligence.
(19)For the best account of Dufferin’s last days, se Andrew Gailley, The Lost Imperialist. The letter by Sir Edward Grey is quoted in Lyall, vol ii, page 305, and that to Salisbury on page 320.
(20)Martin Brown has kindly lent me an unattributed paper that suggests that the grand staircase on the Titanic was a replica of the main entrance at Witley Park. The Titanic was designed and built by Harland and Wolff when Lord Pirrie was chairman. An article in the Surrey Advertiser and County Times for 16th January 1954 suggests things were rather the other way around; that Lord Pirrie “had the mansion remodelled internally, some of the rooms being panelled with replicas of apartments on the ill-fated liner Titanic.” Perhaps the influence worked both ways.
(21)The Truth, Sunday 8th June 1952. Available online.
17 July 2017