Lord Sydney letters

Family letters 1794-1840, concerning Lord Sydney,
(Viscount Sydney)


Eunice Shanahan

Townshend, Thomas, first Viscount Sydney 1733-1800

We have 7 letters beginning with one dated 1794 to Lord Sydney from his sister and the final one to Mr George Golding at Scadbury Park Farm,Chislehurst Kent dated January 29th 1840, a few days after the introduction of the Penny post.

Most of them have interesting post marks as well as the social content of the letters themselves, and can be linked to other events going on during those years.

So the first point of interest is Lord Viscount Sydney himself. There is a lot of information about him on the internet, and he held an amazing number of posts in the governments of the day, including a strange-sounding one: as the Clerk of the Board of the Green Cloth where he served from 1761 to 1762. I had never heard of such a position, but research shows that it was a position in the British Royal Household. The clerk acted as secretary and was therefore responsible for organising royal journeys and assisting in the administration of the Royal Household. From the Restoration of the monarchy, there were four clerks (two clerks and two clerks comptrollers). Two additional clerks comptrollers were added in 1761, but one of these was redesignated a clerk in 1762.

The family owned the Frognal estate in Chislehurst Kent and the house in Grosvenor Square, London, There is a beautiful picture of Frognal on Wikipedia, shown here

Opinions about Thomas Townshend, first Viscount Sydney have changed over the passing two centuries, but not many politicians are involved in the formative histories of three countries and have cities on two continents named after them: Sydney in Australia of course, but also Sydney in Nova Scotia, Canada.

In Canada, Sydney, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island (now the province of Nova Scotia), was founded by British Col. Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres in 1785, and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (Home Secretary in the British cabinet at the time). Lord Sydney appointed Col. DesBarres governor of the new colony of Cape Breton Island.

There is good reason for him to have had this honour, because following the loss of the North American colonies, Sydney, as Home Secretary in the Pitt Government, was given responsibility for devising a plan to settle convicts at Botany Bay. His choice of Arthur Phillip as Governor was inspired and Phillip’s leadership was instrumental in ensuring the penal colony survived the early years of struggle and famine. On 26 January 1788, Phillip named Sydney Cove in honour of Sydney and the settlement became known as Sydney Town. In 1789 Townshend was created Viscount Sydney.

The first letter was addressed To Lord Viscount Sydney, Grosvenor Square, London.

There is a very clear postmark in red, FREE triple circle JU 14 94 P inspectors letter (This was J Palmer.) This type of postmark with the initial P was only in use from 1791-1795.

I am intrigued by this example of a FREE letter, because there are none of the details that I would expect to find on such a letter at this time. The regulation of 1784 (10 years before this letter was written) stipulated that to obtain the free franking privilege a Member had to write at the top of the letter the Post Town where it was put in, the date and the year; moreover he had to be within twenty miles of that town at the time, and he had to sign at the bottom left of the address panel.

This letter has none of these written on it, so perhaps those restrictions only applied to mail sent by a Member of Parliament. I can find no reference in any of our books as to how this would have affected mail addressed TO the Member entitled to the free postage. The number of letters he was entitled to receive on any given day was restricted to 15, and presumably the post master would be keeping a record.

There seems to be a partial postmark in black under the red FREE postmark, and as it was a single rim FREE it would have come into London presumably from the provinces or elsewhere. If it had been within London it should have been within the Twopenny Post area and would have had other postmarks on it from that system.

The letter is not dated by the writer, but on the outside Lord Sydney has added a note

“my Sister with an acct of Wm’s Money”

My dear Brother
I see William according to fashionable phrase is Gazetted.(+) I should have been glad the same operation had been performed upon poor John Brodrick.(++) But what I write about is to send you Mr Iron’s account of the balance left of Williams £500, stock. I find you have not yet taken up the draft. It is proper you should have this memorandum but it need not be shown to William as money at his age is apt to be the giving of indiscreet companions if it is not thrown away by himself & it may serve him for another lift. I should have written to have enquired after you if my frequent intercourse with your Family had not made it a matter of mere form to give you or yours the trouble of answering one.

John tells me you look pulled but I think that will do you good & I hope you will take a few days country air to get rid of your cough.


(+) The Gazette mentioned was the London Gazette, copies of which are available on line but I checked all of June and July up to about the 20th and there was no mention of William Townshend. William Augustus (Lord Townshend’s third son), and nephew of the letter writer, was born 10/3/1776 so was 18 years old when this letter was written, but he must have been in one of the Services to have been Gazetted, and presumably fellow serving men could have led him astray at that age. He died on 3rd July 1816.

(++) Thomas and Mary’s sister Albinia married George Brodrick Viscount Middleton of Ireland, so this is another relative.

I am much rejoiced by the news from Ld Howe & very glad that this victory has been atchieved by him as there has been a sad run on him whose bravery I have always been used to respect.

NOTE: This is a reference to Richard, 1st Earl Howe who joined the navy at the age of 13. He saw service all around the world and rose through the ranks finally becoming the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1783. When the war with France broke out in 1793 he took command of the Channel Fleet and the next year gained a great victory off Ushant on “The Glorious First of June ”.

I enjoy finding letters like this which report on momentous events when they actually happened.

She then continues the letter with information about their relative.

I received this morning the best account I have yet had from Miss Brodrick she says her sleep, appetite & spirits are returning. If John was to return with a Company of the Guards it would much accelerate the cure. I have given Ld Sydney’s message to Mrs Wallaston which was properly taken she said she did not expect an answer. Why will people write those letters. It is fair the Girls should have the diversion they so readily gave up in the Winter but the Country is very beautifull, and Hay is just begun
Farewell my Dear Brother
Yours most affectly
M Townshend.
She has then added a post script note,

Alas! Charles has made the Parish so drunk that I have not had a very …? At ….?

As this illustration shows, the last words are impossible to decipher.

Mary was the youngest, apparently remained single, but I could find no record of where she lived, to trace that faint postmark. It is possible that it was written from Frognal, their family home in in Chislehurst in Kent, which is out of the London post area.

This was the only one of the letters for this member of the family. The other letters dated from 1800 to 1840 all relate to the family and their properties.

The next letter dated 16th June 1800 is addressed to the eldest son of the 1st Viscount Sydney, John Thomas Townshend, written from a solicitor in Lincolns Inn, London. This was a Penny Post letter so both the postmarks are from that branch of the Post Office. It was handed in at Chancery Lane Receiving office, and the postage was not paid, this type of stamp was in use from about 1796 and this example is unusual in that the furst letter of UNPAID is lower case, whereas they are usually a capital first letter. The letter was then transferred to the Westminster Office for delivery and received the red indented oval dated postmark in three lines. This shows 8 o’Clock 19 JU 1800 Mng. From 1800 to 1822 the year was shown in four figures. The Twopenny Post did not start until 1801.

Surprisingly, the letter which is a business communication is dated on the front 18 June 1800, rather than inside as part of the message.

I beg your pardon for having suffered your letter to remain so long unanswered. The only difficulty that retards the completion of the business, respects the Construction put upon Lord Robert Berties’ Will. Whether his third of the Moiety of the Chislehurst Estate passed to Lady Robert Bertie in fee, or whether it was directed to go according to Mr Farrington’s Will.

Until that question is ascertained it is impossible to determine who are the proper parties to make a Title to Lord Sydney.

I shall be very ready to show Mr Ellis the Case if he wishes to see it, but Lord Robert Bertie’s Will & Mr Mansfield’s Opinion gives all the information he can want.

I am Sir
Your most obt svt
Washington Cotes

As a matter of interest, had Washington Cotes delayed his letter for another couple of weeks he would have had to address it to the new Viscount Sydney, as he inherited the title on the death of his father, from apoplexy, on 30th June 1800.

The next letter is addressed to Viscount Sydney, Frognal Chislehurst Kent and has 5 postal markings. It was written by the Vicar of Croydon and relates to the death of Mary Townshend, who was probably this viscount’s aunt, his father’s sister. The ink has faded considerably, so some of the words are hard to decipher. As in the style of the day, many of the words have a capital first letter, and use the long ‘s’ when there is a double ‘s’ in the word,

The letter is addressed to Viscount Sydney, Frognal Chislehurst Kent and has 5 postal markings

  • 1 Framed 2-step T.P. Croydon Receiving office stamp and the
  • 2 hand stamp charge of 2 in black applied there
  • 3 the transfer stamp octagonal in black ink 7 o’Clock AP. 16 1821 Nt (the month before the day showing it was applied at the office of the Twopenny Post) This was a large stamp of 35 x 25mm in use 1812-22.
  • 4 the evening duty date stamp AP 16 821 with an identifying letter of B at left side
  • 5 finally the charge for the letter was altered to 6 d which was the charge of 4d for a distance of less than 15 miles, plus the twopenny post charge.
  • It concerns the death of the Viscount’s aunt Mary Townshend, who is the lady who wrote the first letter in 1794.

    My Dear Lord
    I thank you for the early and friendly communication of the easy and happy Departure of good Miss Mary Townshend. Her latter end has been just what might have been expected from her well regulated mind, which enabled her to bear with Cheerfulness and Patience the Deprivations attendant on old age & to look forward to the final change with a Composure which a just Sense of Religion can alone inspire.

    It is gratifying to me to have retained to the last the Friendship of a Person so deservedly esteemed which I shall always remember with Pleasure.

    I conclude her funeral will be quite private or should readily offer myself to a Vicar on this occasion.

    With my constant good wishes to your Lordship and to every part of your Family,
    I remain
    Yrs very Truly
    J C Lockwood.

    Vicarage Croydon April 6: 21

    The letter is sealed in red sealing wax, and the design is unusual, and intriguing. It appears to show two men on the left, a block in the middle and two women on the right with a child being protected by the second woman. It is not the family crest of the Lockwood name.

    However, responses from contacts on the Stamp Communities internet forum were very enlightening, and Rod wrote an e-mail to the Croydon Natural History and Science Society for help regarding the seal, and the response came from the secretary Mr Lancaster on 30th December 2018


    Since wax seals seem to have been a kind of personal identity, I don’t think this seal has any necessary links to Croydon Parish Church, or indeed to Lockwood’s previous incumbencies in Suffolk and Norfolk. He may anyway have had the seal made before he came to Croydon as vicar. He was after all middle aged being born in 1762. (By 1821 he was also rector of nearby Coulsdon). The Seal may reflect family pride as he was related to the aristocratic Manners—Suttons and the then Archbishop Manners—Sutton appointed him as vicar of Croydon.

    The nakedness or near nakedness of the figures would hardly have been considered as appropriate for a Christian theme, not even for baptism, whereas the depiction of nudity was commonplace in classical art.

    There is a gap of about 13 years before the next letter which was written from Geneva in 1834 by the third Viscount Sydney and is addressed To Golding, Frognal Footscray. Angleterre, and concerns the family estate in Kent.

    It is one of those letters which delight collectors of postal history, as it has seven postmarks, (Fig.1 golding.jpg) showing the route taken, which explains the manuscript cost.

    I had enormous help from a fellow collector Jean-Francois who explained the foreign stamps for me. To make it easier I have put them in the sequence in which they would have been applied on the journey from Geneva to Footscray, with the appropriate comments in italics. He uses the word “port” in the sense of being a tax or a charge, to indicate the cost charged for each segment of the journey.

  • 1) Geneva 17 Aout 1834 the cost could not be paid all the way from Geneva to England so,
  • 2) A.E.J.F Affranchissement pour l'étranger jusqu'à la frontière, french paid port transit mark to Calais, directly paid by Swiss office to French office.
  • 3) Suisse par Ferney boxed. first port - a 2 decimes port was prepaid for local Swiss journey to Ferney. Ferney is a French little frontier town near Genève, well known because Voltaire lived in it (the actual name is Fernay&emdash;Voltaire). You can see a squared black entrance French mark SUISSE PAR FERNEY. second port, the French transit was paid by England to France, according with the Conventions of 5/17/1802 from Helvetia to Dover = 3.20 francs per oz, or 80 centimes for a single letter (7.5 grams). The AEJF marking is like a post stamp, it signifies the port is paid in advance by the destination country (UK).
  • 4) FPO London dotted circle Au 22 1834. as Footscray was in the Twopenny Post area, it had to be transferred and the Twopenny Post charge added.
  • 5) boxed TP 2 rate This is a poor smudged copy and this is what is should look like

  • 6) London transfer date stamp for Twopenny post 10 F’noon AU 22 1834 as the month was before the day, this is the Chief Office, but in fact the Westminster office had closed in July 1834, so this would have been the Chief Office anyway.
  • 7) Manuscript charge mark of 1/2. This is made up of third port, the inland port from Dover to destination. In this case, it can be 6 pence. So, the final tax written on the letter could be 8 pence (transit tax) plus 6 pence (inland tax) = 14 pence = 1 sh. 2 d.

  • Imagine finding this amount of information about the journey of a letter in the 21st century, our letters usually come with a meter mark stating the country of origin and that is it.

    So now to the letter itself, which is quite small, and very neatly written and shows that although the Viscount is in Switzerland he is still keeping an eye on his property at home and informs his agent as to his concerns and the actions required.

    Geneva Aug 17 34

    I have received your letter of the 17th July three weeks ago with the accts. It seems to me that the garden receipt being only £6 for 6 months seems extraordinary, I think if this is the case you had better turn off another man directly, & let it lie out of cultivation entirely, as it is absurd to be at the expense of keeping up the garden when the produce is only £6 in so many months for the fruit & vegetables of that garden, at all events, I may as well save myself a man per week. I shall be obliged to you to let me hear again about this & if any thing has been received since you last wrote I should think by the acct that cows & calves had not answered & that it wd have been better to have parted with them, & saved the expense of keeping them all this time, but of this I am not so certain.

    What has the garden been cropped with & what has become of the fruit & vegetables? I suppose those Bills that Mr Hafter paid at the last Audit were properly examined & (Smithers?) knew something about them for I don’t.

    I shall leave this in the course of next week, & be at Paris by the end of the month, where you had better direct for the present, & enclose the letters to “Wm Stopford Esq Foreign Office, Downing St London” who will forward them to me at Paris. I do not think of being home before the winter, at all events.

    It is very hot here still. About the fence. Will you tell Sutton to do the same as last year about it & hand it to the same people, on the outskirts, but let the dogs be reduced directly & the Rabbits kept down.

    Has anything here been done respecting the Church or the Parish School? You said that the Bricklayers were about the House, it is as well not to let them be there too much as Francis runs up large bills so do not let the least thing be done that is not absolutely necessary

    fm Sydney

    It is apparent that Lord Sydney is on Government business in Switzerland and then France, not on holiday, but he is certainly keeping himself informed about the situation at Frognal estate. He was known as the Viscount Sydney between 1831 and 1874, when he became 1st Earl Sydney. He was a British liberal politician and in his ministerial career spanning over 30 years, he was twice Lord Chamberlain of the Household and twice Lord Steward of the Household.

    There are three more letters in this collection, and more information about him will be put with them.

    The link to the next three letters 1st Earl Sydney.

    Reference: “British County Catalogue of Postal History Vol 3. London” by R.M. Willcocks & B. Jay
    “Chambers Biographical Dictionary ”

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