Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lord Rivers Drowns in the Serpentine—Was It an Accident?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Lord Rivers as a boy
Loretta reports:

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was addicted to gambling. The first Lord Holland’s sons ran up enormous gambling debts. Beau Brummell fled England to escape his. A lot of that going around.

The third Baron Rivers is another example I happened on. The trail started with the following in La Belle Assemblée for March 1831:
“The first act of the Duke of Sussex, on being appointed to the Rangership of Hyde-park, has been to give directions for the placing an adequate protection against the spot where the late Lord Rivers lost his life."
This was intriguing. Who was Lord Rivers and how did he die?

Wikipedia’s short entry only tantalized, sending me to the 1 April 1831 Gentleman’s Magazine obituary.
LORD RIVERS.
Jan. 23 Drowned in the Serpentine river, aged 53, the Right Hon. Horace William Pitt, third Baron Rivers, of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire (1802).
 ... As Mr. Horace Beckford he was for many years a distinguished member of the haut ton; and it was only after his succeeding to the title on the death of his maternal uncle, July 20, 1828, that he took the name of Pitt ... .
“Lord Rivers was first missed on the evening of Sunday Jan. 23 ... On Tuesday the Serpentine river was dragged, and in the afternoon his Lordship's body was found at the east end, near the waterfall.”
At the inquest, his steward and a footman insisted he’d been in good spirits: He was nearsighted and must have fallen into the river by accident. The superintendent of the Humane Society's Receiving House said the footpath there was so dangerous that ten people fell into the river on a recent foggy night.
“The Jury returned this verdict: ‘Found drowned near the public path at the head of the Serpentine River, considered very dangerous for want of a rail or fence, where many persons have lately fallen in.’—The rail has been since erected by direction of the Duke of Sussex, the new Ranger of Hyde Park.

Subsequently to the inquest ..., there has been considerable discussion in the newspapers regarding the cause of the occurrence; and it has been stated, with what truth we cannot say, that when the body was taken out of the water, his Lordship's hat was secured with a handkerchief under his chin, and that his umbrella was found on the bank, both which circumstances are considered indicative that his immersion was intentional; and it is added that on the Saturday night he had lost considerable sums at a gaming-house; and that this passion for play had for some years so far possessed him, that his uncle bequeathed to him only 4000l. a year, leaving the bulk of his property, amounting to 40,000l a year, to trustees for the benefit of his son, the present Peer.”
Nigel Cox, Serpentine Waterfall
It’s important to remember that suicide, being self-murder, was a capital offense. One could be tried and hanged for the attempt, and a suicide’s property was forfeit to the Crown. Up to a certain point in the early 19th C, those who’d committed suicide were buried at midnight at a crossroads without the offices of clergy. This is why coroner’s juries tended to find the deaths accidental or, when this was impossible, the victim of unsound mind.

Image: A print of the “youthful portrait of Mr. Horace Beckford, at full length in a Vandyke costume, painted by R. Cosway, R.A. and engraved in stipple by John Conde, 1792", courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo of Serpentine Waterfall by Nigel Cox. Another image here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

2 comments:

Kaisievic said...

Interesting, thank you.

Regencyresearcher said...

I think it was after 1822 that suicides were no longer buried naked at the crossroads. There had been a number of suicides of prominent men from Sir Samuel Romilly in 1818 to Castlereagh in 1822 which were passed off as irrational acts under disturbance of the mind. The men were given funerals suitable for their place in society as judge and member of the government. When a carpenter died by his own hand and was buried at the crossroads there was a public outcry and parliament , for once, acted swiftly, and allowed the burial of suicides elsewhere.
Harriet Shelley was pulled from the Serpentine as well.. her death was thought to be suicide because she was pregnant but her husband had run off with Mary Godwin. One author believes Shelley was the father of her child because he had been around.
One of the penalties for denoting a death as suicide was that the money and income for a year was forfeit to the crown. Don't know when that stopped. As if the families of men who lost fortunes at the gaming tables didn't have enough problems, that forfeiture was very unjust and one reason juries tried to find a verdict of accident.
Today many believe that gambling is an addiction and a disease but for many in the days of the first three decades of the century, I think it was boredom. Society ruined young men by turning up the collective nose at work.

 
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