An Important George III Silver-Gilt Tray

JAMES YOUNG (worked 1760-c.1795)

An Important George III Silver-Gilt Tray

1791 London

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Of oblong form, on four leaf-capped scroll bracket feet, the flaring border chased with quilting and with gadrooned rim, the field finely engraved with a broad band of scrolling foliage and flowerheads tied at the corners to acanthus, the centre finely engraved with a Marquess’s armorials, the reverse of border applied with four bracket handles.
The arms are those of Hamilton, for John James Hamilton, 9th Earl of Abercorn. Born in 1756, the posthumous son and heir of Captain John Hamilton R.N. (1714-1755) by his wife Harriet (nee Craggs), widow of Richard Eliot of Port Eliot, Cornwall. John James was educated at Harrow before going up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of William Pitt the younger (1759-1806) to whom he was related by marriage through the Eliot family. After leaving university, Hamilton was M.P. for East Looe in 1783/84 and for St. Germans between 1784 and 1789. It was at this period that he became a particular ally of his friend Pitt during the latter’s first tenure as Prime Minister.

On 9 October 1789 Hamilton succeeded his uncle James as the 9th Earl of Abercorn, a title bestowed on an ancestor by James I in 1606. In 1790 he was further elevated as the Marquess of Abercorn. His surviving political correspondence from this time shows that he was immersed in local Irish politics and electioneering as well as the problem of Catholic Relief and Catholic Emancipation. Following the enactment of the Militia Act in 1793, Abercorn became honorary commander of the Tyrone Militia which he continued to be associated until his resignation in 1800.

The celebrated Earl, ‘is stated to have always gone out shooting in his Blue Ribbon’ (he was a Knight of the Garter) ‘and to have required the housemaids to wear white kid gloves when they made his bed. It is also alleged that having learnt of his second wife’s elopement, he sent her a message begging her to take the family coach, as it ought never to be said that Lady Abercorn left her husband’s roof in a hack chaise’. (G.E. Russell, Collections and Recollections, 1898).

Although Abercorn, the only nobleman of his day to hold titles in England, Ireland and Scotland, resided when in London at the family mansion, 22 (now 25) Grosvenor Square, his principal residence was at Bentley Priory, Stanmore, north west London, originally built in 1766. He purchased this property in 1788 and immediately employed Sir John Soane to oversee extensive improvements “in which convenience is united with magnificence in a manner rarely to be met with” (David Lysons, The Environs of London, 1810, vol II, p. 375). Soane’s scheme included a picture gallery, a grand Portland stone staircase, a dining room measuring 40 by 30 feet, and a saloon and music room each measuring 50 by 30 feet. The Marquess’s lavish expenditure also included improvements to the garden and the park. Visitors from Bentley were from Abercorn’s wide circle of political, literary and theatrical friends and acquaintances, including Pitt, Wellington, Canning, Liverpool and Sidmouth; the poets Wordsworth, Moore and Thomas Campbell; and the actors Sarah Siddons and John Kemble. Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton were also welcome guests, as was Sir Walter Scott who in 1807 wrote his epic poem Marmion there.

Later recalling the Marquess of Abercorn in a review of James Boaden’s Memoirs of the Life of John Philip Kemble, Scott wrote that he (Kemble) ‘was a frequent and favourite guest at Bentley Priory, which was then the resort of the most distinguished part of the fashionable world. Its noble owner, the late Marquis of Abercorn, has been so long with the dead, that to do justice to his character, much misrepresented in some points during his life, can be ascribed to no motive which interest or adulation could suggest. He was a man highly gifted by nature, and whose talents had been improved by sedulous attention to an excellent education. If he had remained a Commoner, it was the opinion of Mr. Pitt, that he must have been one of the most distinguished speakers in the Lower House. The House of Lords does not admit to the same display either of oratory or of capacity for public business; but when the Marquis of Abercorn did speak there, the talents which he showed warranted the prophecy of so skilled an augur as Pitt. Those who saw him at a distance accused him of pride and haughtiness. That he had a sufficient feeling of the dignity of his situation, and maintained it with perhaps and unusual degree of state and expense may readily be granted. But that expense, however large, was fully supported by an ample fortune wisely administered, and in the management of which the interests of the tenant were always considered as well as those of the landlord. He racked no rents to maintain the expenses of his establishment, nor did he diminish his charities, which were in many cases princely, for the sake of the outward state, the maintenance of which he thought not unjustly, a duty incumbent on his situation. Above all, the stateliness of which the late Marquis of Abercorn was accused, drew no barrier between the Marquis of Abercorn and those who shared his hospitality.’ (Article XI, ‘Life of Kemble. – Kelley’s Reminiscences.’ From the Quarterly Review, April 1826, The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, vol VI, Paris 1838).

Away from London and its environs, Lord Abercorn spent much time at his Irish seat, Baronscourt, co. Tyrone.

Abercorn was married three times, first on 20 June 1779 to Catharine (died 19 September 1791), first daughter of Sir Joseph Copley, 1st Bt, by whom he had five children; and second on 4 March 1792 to his first cousin, Lady Cecil Hamilton (whom may have been his mistress during the lifetime of his first wife), by whom he had a daughter. Following the couple’s divorce by Act of Parliament in 1799 (on account of her adultery with Captain Joseph Copley, the brother of her former husband’s first wife), Abercorn married on 3 April 1800 Lady Anne Jane Hatton, widow of Henry Hatton of Great Clonard, co. Wexford, and daughter of the 2nd Earl of Arran.
John James Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn (1756-1818)
Sotheby’s London, 25 October 1962, lot 126
Sotheby’s London, 9 April 1964, lot 127
Hilmar Reksten, Christie’s London, May 22 1991, lot 38
Stanley c. Dixon, English Decorated Trays, 1964, illustrated, p.13
Hilmar Rekstens Samlinger, Bergen, 1978, p. 146
Christie’s Review of the Season, 1991, illustrated, p.186
Dimensions
Width 29.00 inch (73.66 cm)
Weight 296.00oz t (9205.60g)
Stock Code
DT15.30.1
Medium
Silver-gilt
Signed/Inscribed
London 1791
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