Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo, was a celebrated public figure. His official correspondence, safely stored in the strongrooms at the University of Southampton, bears witness to the fact that members of the public wrote to him about everything and anything. As well as this, the lucky man received a barrage of gifts! In reality, this was not as good as it first sounds; as we discussed in a previous post on the matter, he was so overwhelmed that he was required to direct staff at Apsley House, his London residence, to refuse all packages. Of course, not all the “gifts” he received were straightforward; many people sent items to Wellington with ulterior motives, as we will soon discover.
A true gift is something given willingly, without payment. Some of the items sent to the Duke appear to be genuinely that: no strings attached. On 3 March 1831, W.Thorpe of Manchester informed the Duke he was sending him one hogshead of cannel [coal] to Apsley House. Thorpe stated that while he had a very large family and a small income, he intended sending a portion of cannel to the Duke every winter as he is indebted to the Duke for “the comfort I enjoy by my fireside”. In his reply, the Duke is grateful but unable to accept gifts and wishes to know how to send payment. [WP4/3/4/11]
Some people chose to send medical supplies to Wellington. This includes J.R.King of Bath who in October 1841 followed up his delivery of a box of lozenges by asking whether the product was efficacious. Does it seem callous to suggest that some people might have ulterior motives in sending these gifts? Wellington’s approbation of your product would be hugely significant; the Duke was nobody’s fool and was acutely aware of the significance of his patronage. [WP2/79/70]
The Duke received his fair share of consumables. William Spicer sent blackberries in August 1842 [WP2/90/98]. Another delivery contained a three brace of partridges from Mr Lowndes of Dover in January 1830. Charles Culling Smith, London Customs — the intermediary — notes that Lowndes is a good politician who admires Wellington as a statesman and a soldier. [WP1/1084/4 and reply WP1/1090/12]
Samuel Triscott [WP2/84/23-4 27] sends a cask of arrowroot from Bermuda and from Sir John Hobhouse, a sample of Assam tea [WP2/73/170-1] along with a note. At this time arrowroot was used in biscuits, puddings, jellies and cakes. When boiled with beef tea or milk it was considered an easily digestible food for children and people with dietary restrictions. Triscott and Hobhouse are not just sending free gifts but aiming to generate trade.
Other more substantial deliveries include two Shetland ponies send by Thomas Edmundston of Buness in Shetland in August 1842 [WP2/91/32]
At Christmas 1841, the Duke received a boar’s head from Ernest Augustus the King of Hanover. This letter caused us some consternation! Should it be included with the blackberries and partridges as food? Or as miscellaneous other?! And, most importantly, what sort of state was it in when it got to the Duke having been sent from Germany? [WP2/73/92-3]
The Hanoverian King hadn’t gone all “Godfather” on the Duke: there really is a Boar’s Head Feast Christmas festival. This ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a Yuletide feast may have roots in Germanic paganism. In fact, it’s still celebrated in some public schools and parts of America. Fortunately, we now have no idea respecting the whereabouts of the aforementioned boar’s head; we have no idea what the Duke did with it but hope it’s long been disposed of!