Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Rice Portrait - Who were the Harding Newmans? - Part Four - Benjamin Harding Newman

Benjamin Harding Newman was born in Cork, Ireland in 1842, the son of Captain Benjamin Harding Newman and his wife Anna Lefroy Sadleir. His maternal grandmother was Elizabeth (Eliza) Lefroy, younger sister of Thomas Langlois Lefroy.

Benjamin Harding Newman's father died in Bermuda of yellow fever when he was an infant and the 1851 census shows Benjamin living at 16 St George Road, Cheltenham with his grandmother Elizabeth, mother Anna and younger sister. Harriet. Ten years on at the time of the 1861 census the 18 year-old Benjamin is recorded as a boarder, living with farmer and landowner John Hastings and his family at Gressenhall in Norfolk.  

In 1868 Benjamin married Charlotte Augusta North, the daughter of John North, a general medical  practitioner and J.P. from Brecon, Wales. (Three years later Charlotte's brother John Cunningham North married Helen Stringer in New Romney, Kent and later practiced as a surgeon and apothecary at Horsmonden, the village where Jane Austen's family originated. When John North was practicing it was the home of John Francis Austen, nephew of Colonel Thomas Austen. John Cunningham North died of pneumonia on 11 May 1882 at Horsmonden, at the early age of 34.)

In the 1881 census Benjamin Harding Newman is listed at 91 Kensington Gardens Square, West London with his wife Charlotte and their six young children and five servants. He is recorded as having no profession so perhaps he already had an income from other property.

Benjamin's uncle, Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman died on 21 April 1882 with probate granted on 5 June 1882. His will recorded the following provision:

I give my wines spirits and consumable stores my furniture plate books and china glass pictures prints drawings objects of art and vertu and other household effects at Nelmes and my horses carriages garden and stable utensils and outdoor effects to my Nephew Benjamin Harding Newman absolutely. 

Excerpt from will of Thomas Harding Newman

Thomas Harding Newman left his property interests at Blue Hole, Hanover in Jamaica to Charles Harding Newman Ringer, the son of his step-sister Julia; the remainder of his property including his estate at Nelmes and at Great Clacton he left to Benjamin, albeit with some encumbrances which we'll come to in a minute.

Nelmes, Essex 
In my previous post on Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman I related that he had written to his friend Dr John Rouse Bloxam in 1880, stating that he wanted to give the portrait of Jane Austen in his possession to their mutual friend and Bloxam's neighbour, John Morland Rice. In the event he never did pass the portrait on to his friend. The portrait therefore must have passed with the other effects to his nephew Benjamin. This is borne out by a further letter, from Dr John Rouse Bloxam to a third party. On Easter Monday 1883 Dr. Bloxam wrote a letter to his friend General Gibbes Rigaud. In it he said:

Talking of paintings Hardman [sic] Newman, nephew of Dr Newman has just sent me a full length portrait by Zoffany of Miss Austen, the novelist, to give to Rice, who is a connection of the Lady.  - Rice is much pleased with it - I knew that Newman intended to leave it to Rice, but did not, - but his nephew to his great credit has given it.

At the time Benjamin Harding Newman was no doubt feeling rather well-off, having just inherited considerable land, estates and property from his uncle. In the same year, 1883, he sold one of these inherited estates, the 265 acre manor of Romford or 'Mawneys' to a housing developer.

But financial problems were looming. Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding-Newman, in an effort to ensure his relatives were financially looked after, had made a number of provisions in his will which gave various individuals a claim against the estates. A cousin, Thomas Harding Newman, was given an annual charge of £80; his brother's widow Anna Lefroy Newman was given £100 per annum; his niece Harriet Croker was given £300 per annum; his sister Eliza Hall Allies was granted an annual rent charge of £100 per annum and his butler Henry Tyrell was granted £50 per annum.  This was in addition to various bequests to family members and servants.

As early as 1886 there were signs of problems in making these payments as evidenced by a series of letters held by the Hampshire record office. In that year Tankerville Chamberlain landowner and MP and an old friend of Rev. Dr Harding Newman, wrote to his solicitor on behalf of Henry Tyrell explaining that Benjamin Harding Newman had stopped payment of the annuity and asking for his assistance:

The writer of the enclosed was butler to an old friend of mine, Dr Harding Newman, Fellow of Magdalen College. He can’t get his annuity and wants to know if he has any remedy, I have told him to call on you on Thursday at 3. Please advise him and debit me. 

On 27 Jan 1887 Benjamin Harding Newman wrote to Tyrell paying the outstanding balance of eleven shillings and offering £500 to discharge Tyrell's claim on the estate:

I enclose you an order for 11 shillings as balance of annuity. I see no prospect of either rents or tithes being paid with anything like punctuality in the future, are you willing to accept £500 to discharge your claim on the estate. I do not make the offer but might be inclined to do so, or purchase an annuity from an insurance office if you prefer.

Benjamin Harding Newman was by no means alone; Britain had been facing a severe agricultural depression since around 1873 and by the 1880s many landowners were experiencing colossal losses in income.    

Richard Harding Newman by
Romney  - the 'Pink Boy'

In 1889/90 Benjamin Harding Newman sold the portrait by George Romney of his great-grandfather Richard Harding Newman. It was acquired by Alfred de Rothschild and later by Michael Arthur Bass, 1st Lord Burton for £8000, and was hung above the fireplace in the drawing room at his Mayfair mansion Chesterfield House, where it became known by the sobriquet the 'Pink Boy'.

By the 1891 census Benjamin and Charlotte Harding Newman, together with three of their children, Thomas, Edith and Marian, are recorded as being at 18 Cleveland Square, Paddington. Described as living on own means' they have still retained a ladies maid and a cook, parlourmaid, kitchenmaid and housemaid.

Then, in 1894, Benjamin Harding Newman was declared bankrupt. According to the bankruptcy proceedings Benjamin was living at the Inns of Court Hotel in Holborn, and prior to this at the Great Western Hotel in Paddington and for some time at Llangoed in Brecon, home of his wife's family. The bankruptcy court recorded that Harding Newman had been living off the income from his estates which were encumbered with mortgages and annuities. Benjamin himself blamed pressure from his creditors, excessive interest charges and the agricultural depression for the bankruptcy.

In 1895 the southern part of the Nelmes estate at Hornchurch was sold to developer William Carter of Dorset who built the Emerson Park estate, now a prestigious residential area popular with West Ham footballers.
Plans for Emerson Park Estate
In the 1901 census Benjamin Harding Newman, his wife Charlotte and three of their six children are living in Surbiton with Benjamin still recorded as living off his own means. In the same year the northern part of the Nelmes estate was also sold for development and in 1903 the house itself, Great Nelmes, was sold to Alfred Barber, a sack and bag manufacturer from Islington. In June 1902 Benjamin Harding Newman made a short will; his address was given as Mawneys, Catherine Road, Surbiton in the County of Surrey. (He had evidently named his house after the estate he had sold in Romney) He bequeathed all his property to his son Edward, a captain in the British army and mentions a debt to Martins Bank of £60 to be paid from his estate.

Benjamin's wife, Charlotte Harding Newman died in 1908 at Newmarket, presumably at the home of her eldest son Francis who lived at Chippenham, Newmarket in Cambridgeshire.

After this there appears to have been a radical change in circumstances for Benjamin Harding Newman. For at the time of the next census, taken on 2 April 1911, he is recorded as lodging with a grocer, Frederick Mewton, his wife Annie and two sons at Brookside, Mount Charles, St Austell, Cornwall.
Benjamin Harding Newman on the 1911 census 

The Mewtons were a Cornish family, originally from nearby Roche, where Frederick Mewton's father was a shoemaker. Frederick and Annie Mewton also acted as witnesses to a codicil Benjamin Harding Newman added to his will on 05 October 1914, in which his address was given as  'formerly of Mawneys Catherine Road Surbiton in the County of Surrey but now of Brookside Watering Hill St Austell Cornwall'. The Great War had started and his son Edward was serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France. As Edward was the sole executor of his father's will, Benjamin therefore made provision, in the event of his son pre-deceasing him, that his eldest daughter Edith should act as executor. The debt to Martins Bank evidently remained outstanding for he renewed the direction that payment of £60 'or any other sum which I may owe to them and interest thereon' should be paid from his estate.

I have been unable to discover what could possibly have brought Benjamin Harding Newman to live in Cornwall. None of his six children lived in the area and his sister Harriet was in Oxfordshire; there is no connection to St Austell that I have uncovered.

And here is a very curious coincidence - if coincidence it is.

The Cassandra Sketch
The portrait of Jane Austen owned by the National Portrait Gallery and which is on display is the unfinished sketch thought to have been drawn by Jane's sister Cassandra. The National Portrait Gallery purchased the sketch  at a Sothebys auction in 1948 from the dead estate of Frederick Richard Lovering, a china clay merchant, whose residence was a grand town house in the centre of St Austell named 'Caprera'. The Lovering family were well established as one of the major industrial families of St Austell. Born in 1861, Fred Lovering was instrumental in forming the important china clay manufacturing company of ECLP (English Clays Lovering Pochin and Co), later the English China Clays Group.

Lovering had purchased the portrait along with a lock of Jane Austen's hair and some of Jane Austen's letters from the grand-daughters of Jane's brother, Charles Austen in 1925-7, with the assistance of Austen scholar Robert Chapman. Lovering is described by Austen scholar Claudia Johnson in her book Cults and Cultures as 'certainly one of the first collectors of Austeniana.' According to Deirdre Le Faye, Frederick Lovering was a neighbour of Charles Austen's descendants, however I can find no record of any of Charles Austen's descendants  living in St Austell.

Isn't it rather strange that two men, who both owned portraits of Jane Austen (hardly a commonplace), happened to live at the very same time in the same relatively obscure town in Cornwall? It is very possible that Benjamin Harding Newman knew Frederick Lovering during the years he was living in St Austell, a small town with limited opportunity for socialising. Did Benjamin Harding Newman tell Lovering the story of the portrait of Jane Austen he had inherited from his uncle and then given to Morland Rice? Could it be this connection that lay the foundation for Frederick Lovering's interest in collecting memorabilia of Jane Austen?

Benjamin Harding Newman died aged about 75, on 21 July 1917. By now he was living at Highfield Avenue, a street of modest terraced houses, in the centre of St Austell. Administration was granted to his son Edward. (Brigadier-General Edward Harding Newman survived both world wars and did not die until 1955) At the time of his death Benjamin Harding Newman's personal estate was valued for probate at fifty-three pounds, eight shillings and sixpence.
Will of Benjamin Harding Newman 
Probate entry for Benjamin Harding Newman

And now, with Benjamin Harding Newman's death, the connection of the Harding Newman family to the portrait of Jane Austen, through three generations, finally came to an end.

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