Who’s Who in 1759 ?
In September 1759, General Wolfe commanded British forces at Quebec in Canada in a number of battles against the French. These events won Canada for the British Empire.
Thomas Gray’s poem, “An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” said to be written in Stokes Poges, Buckinghamshire, evokes something of the spirit of the age, and could almost have been written in Westerham.
The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me…
See the notes on Thomas Gray, below, and the connection with Wolfe.
1759 was a long time ago, and to put it in context, here is a sort of “Who’s Who” of the middle of the 18th century. The King and Wolfe are first, but everyone else is in a fairly random order, with some unexpected associations.
Any errors of fact are entirely the fault of the compiler of this webpage and he apologises unreservedly.
King George II 1683-1760
King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and Archtreasurer and Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 1727 until 1760.
He was the last English king to lead his troops personally into battle, at Dettingen in Bavaria in 1743. Wolfe had joined his father’s regiment in 1741 and was its adjutant at Dettingen
James Wolfe 1727-1759
James Wolfe was born in Westerham and joined the army at 13 and became a celebrated army officer, famous for his leadership and the way he reformed army training. As General Wolfe he was victorious over the French in Quebec, Canada.
James spoke French and some Latin and took lessons on the flute. His close boyhood friend, George Warde, lived at Squerryes Court.
Wolfe saw service in Scotland (at Culloden), in France and in Germany, and is known to have visited an uncle in Dublin.
He is buried in Greenwich, where is family lived after they left Westerham.
George Frederick Handel 1685-1759
Handel was born in Halle, and was originally Kappelmeister to George, The Elector of Hanover, who was sooon to become King of England. Zadok the Priest was written for the coronation and The Water Music was written for the King’s entertainment on the Thames.
Handel lived much of his life in London and died in 1759. His famous oratorio “The Messiah” was first performed in Dublin in 1742, in aid of charity.
William Pitt (The Elder) 1708-1778
William Pitt was grandson of Thomas Pitt, the governor of Madras. A violent attack of gout compelled him to leave Oxford without taking his degree. He took great interest in overseas expansion and was a friend of the great entrepreneur, Clive of India.
Pitt held the office of Lord Privy Seal and then Earl of Chatham.
These were turbulent times for the British parliament. Dr. Johnson is reported to have said that “Walpole was a minister given by the king to the people, but Pitt was a minister given by the people to the king”. He appointed Wolfe to command the forces in Quebec.
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, is named after him.
William Pitt (The Younger) 1759-1806
William Pitt, the second son of Pitt the Elder, was born at Hayes, in Kent!
Pitt was a fragile, sickly child, with inherited gout. He went to Cambridge aged 14 and in 1781 was elected to Parliament, aged 22. He became prime minister at 24.
For some time he lived at Holwood and while Holwood was being repaired, he lived in Westerham at “Pitts Cottage”.
He was a close friend of William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to abolish slavery. BBC website.
Thomas Gray 1716-1771
Wrote An Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Wolfe was given a bound copy of the poem by his fiancee Katherine Lowther before he set sail for Quebec and is said to have memorised the poem and recited it to his troops.
It was a literary sensation when published in 1751 and has made a lasting contribution to English literature and is the origin of the phrases “far from the madding crowd”, “the paths of glory” and “kindred spirit”.
Its reflective, calm and stoic tone was greatly admired, and the poem was translated into Latin and Greek.
See Stoke Poges website.
Arthur Guinness 1716-1771
Arthur Guinness’s godfather, Archbishop Cashel, left him £100 in his will and he started brewing porter, a darker beer containing roasted barley which was famously drunk by London porters. Guinness was first brewed in Dublin 1759, but was not exported until 1769.
See Guinness website.
Gin Tax in 18th Century
The craze for gin seems to have arrived in London about 1720. Prior to that, everyone drank ale, beer and wine (water was not good for you). Gin was cheap and over-consumption became a terrible problem for the working classes – it became known as Mother’s Ruin.
A series of 5 major Gin Acts between 1729 and 1751 introduced taxes to reduce consumption – and raise money for the war efforts.
To learn more about the social history of 18th century click here
Doctor Johnson 1709-1784
Johson made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, and, of course, his famous dictionary, which was published in 1755.
His friend, James Samuel, followed him everywhere and documented his life.
To read more click here.
Benjamin Franklin 1700-1790
American scientist, politician, and scientist who, amongst other things, invented lightning rod.
And, it seems, he did get involved in English politics in Quebec.
Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792
The famous English portrait painter was born in Plymton, a small town near Plymouth, in Devon
Thomas Gainsborough 1700-1790
Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk. His father was a weaver involved with the wool trade. He became the most famous landscape and portrait painter of 18th century Britain. He did indeed paint James Wolfe.
Oliver Goldsmith 1730-1774
Oliver Goldsmith was a famous Irish playwright, well remembered as the author of the comedy She Stoops to Conquer.
He was also James Wolfe’s cousin.
British Museum opens in 1759
Over his lifetime, the physician and naturalist, Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), collected more that 71,000 objects which he hoped would be preserved after his death. He bequeathed the whole collection to King George II for the nation in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs and the British opened it’s doors in 1759. Apparently, visitors weren’t allowed to turn up: they had to apply in writing.
See the British Museum website.
Captain James Cook 1728-1771
James Cook was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer. Cook was the first to map Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific and discovering the eastern coastline of Australia and circumnavigating New Zealand.
Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755. He mapped the entrance to the St Lawrence River and his work allowed General Wolfe to make his famous stealth attack on the Plains of Abraham.
Benjamin West 1738-1820
Benjamin West is famous for having painted a highly realistic picture of the death of Wolfe on the battlefield of Quebec. At the time, his style was much criticized for being too true-to-life.
American War of Independence 1775-1783
The American War of Independence began as a war between Britain and thirteen united former British colonies on the North American continent, and ended in a global war between several European great powers. The colonists insisted that the Parliament of Great Britain had no right to govern them without representation.
George Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army and became first American President in 1789.