MR. ANNESLEY was the son of Arthur, late Lord Baron of Altham, of the kingdom of Ireland, by his wife, Mary Sheffield, (natural daughter of John, Duke of Buckingham,) to whom he was publicly married in the year 1706, contrary to the inclination of his mother, and all his relation, particularly Arthur, late Earl of Anglesea, who entertained an inveterate hatred to the duke; and for that reason did all in his power to set the marriage aside; but, finding that impossible, he never would be reconciled to lard Altham, who was presumptive heir to his estate.
After a cohabitation of something more than two years, a separation took place between Lord Altham and his lady; and his lordship, having involved himself in debt by a life of dissipation, thought it prudent to retreat to Ireland, where he had a good estate; and, after some time, he and his lady were reconciled, through the influence of the Duke of Buckingham.
At the end of about a year from this reconciliation, Lady Altham was brought to bed of a son, whose singular life and adventures we are now to record. When the child was about two years of age, a second quarrel arose between his parents, and a second separation ensued; on which Lady Altham came to England, and lived in London, in the most retired manner, till the year 1729, when she paid the debt of nature.
In the interim Lord Altham lived at Dublin in the most extravagant style, kept the worst company, and paid little regard to the education of his son, who would have been deprived even of the common necessaries of life, but for the intervention of some farmers, who supplied him with sustenance. Occasionally, indeed, his father would send for him; but was generally so intoxicated when he saw him, that the child reaped no advantage from these visits, and was soon reduced to a state of absolute penury.
Lord Altham dying, in the year 1726, a sacrifice to his own irregularities, his brother, Captain Richard Annesley, formed a scheme of succeeding to the Anglesea castle, by secreting the right heir; and for this purpose he made use of many artifices to get the youth into his possession: these failed for some time, as he was boarded and protected by a butcher named Purcel. The youth having acquainted Purcel that he was the son of lord Altham, his story began to engage the public attention, and a counsellor at law took him into his protection, with a view of obtaining for him a legal claim to his hereditary possessions.
The youth had not been long in this station when he was found by the diligence of those who were employed to search for him, who forcibly dragged him on board a ship bound for Newcastle, on the Delaware River, in America, where he was generally kept to hard labour, but occasionally indulged with the liberty of diverting himself with fishing and fowling.
One day, on his return from shooting, he met two Irishmen, to whom he communicated the particulars of his birth and connections and they, happening to remember several circumstances relating thereto, prevailed on the captain of a trading vessel to interest himself to procure his release from slavery.
This being effected, he hired himself as a common sailor in a trading vessel bound to Jamaica; and these, being entered on board one of his majesty's ships under the command of Admiral Vernon, openly declared his parentage and pretensions. This extraordinary claim made a great noise in the fleet; and one of the midshipmen, hearing of it, said 'he had been schoolfellow with Lord Altham's son; and should know him again, if not greatly altered, as he still retained a perfect idea of his countenance.'
Hereupon it was proposed that the experiment should be tried; and the midshipman going on board the ship that the claimant was in for that purpose, all the sailors were assembled on deck, wheat the midshipman, casting his eyes around, immediately distinguished Mr. Annesley in the crowd; and, laying his hand on his shoulder, said, 'This is the man;' affirming, at the same time, that while he continued at school with him the claimant was reputed and respected as Lord Altham's son and heir, and maintained in all respects suitably to the dignity of his rank. Nay, he was in like manner recognised by several other persons in the fleet, who had known him in his infancy. These things being reported to the admiral, he generously ordered him to be supplied with necessaries, and treated like a gentleman; and, in his next dispatches, transmitted an account of the affair to the Duke of Newcastle, among the common transactions of the fleet, Mr. Annesley arriving in London towards the latter end of the year 1741, intelligence of this circumstance was immediately sent to Ireland, on which his uncle, who had heretofore treated him in so unworthy a manner, came to England, in order to carry on the scene of oppression which lay nearest his heart; but a gentleman, named M'Kercher, having taken Mr. Annesley under his protection, sent him to board at the house of a farmer near Staines, in Middlesex. Mr. Annesley had not been long in this situation before an accident happened which greatly contributed to render his future life unhappy. Being passionately fond of sporting, he obtained leave of the gentlemen of Staines to permit him to shoot on their estates; and as he was what is called a fair sportsman, and a professed enemy to poachers, he went into the fields with Joseph Redding, who was gamekeeper to Sir John Dolben, in search of such people as might be found offending against the game-laws. They did not meet with any poachers for game; but, seeing Thomas Egglestone and his son fishing in a river belonging to the manor, they ran to the spot, in order to seize the net; when Egglestone opposing them, Mr. Annesley's gun went off accidentally, and killed him on the spot.
The son, having witnessed the death of his father, hastened to Staines, and informed the inhabitants of what had happened, several of whom went out in search of Annesley and Redding, whom they found at a farmhouse in the neighbourhood. The supposed offenders, being taken into custody, were sent to London, and lodged in the New Prison, and arraigned at the next sessions at the Old Bailey in consequence of bills of indictment which had been found against them by the grand jury.
After the trial had been put off one day, at the request of the counsel for the prosecution, the Court ordered it to be brought on. It is not in language to describe the unworthy part that his uncle, now become Earl of Anglesea, acted in this business. Exclusive of procuring an attorney to offer five hundred pounds to young Egglestone to swear that Annesley pointed the gun at his father and pulled the trigger, he even appeared in person on the bench at the trial, in order to browbeat the unfortunate prisoner. It is asserted that the earl spent above a thousand pounds in this prosecution.
In his defence Mr. Annesley informed the Court that his education having been greatly neglected by those whose duty it was to have taken every possible care of it, such
a defence as might suit his birth was not to be expected: but he said that ‘the gun went off by accident; and, whatever might be the verdict of the jury, he should consider that unhappy accident as the greatest misfortune of his life.'
Redding urged in his defence that it was his duty, as gamekeeper, to seize all nets within the bounds of the manor.
The instructions given by the Court to the jury were, that, if they thought the gun went off accidentally, they should bring in a verdict of chance-medley; but that Mr. Annesley would be deemed guilty of manslaughter, unless it appeared that he was engaged in a lawful act. With regard to Redding it was observed, that as he seized the net under the protection of the law, as gamekeeper, it was but just that he should be protected by the law.
On Mr. Annesley's case four counsel argued several hours; and when the jury were possessed of all the requisite information, they went out of Court, and, having maturely deliberated on the affair, they returned with a verdict of ‘Chance-medley,' which of course acquitted both the prisoners.
This singular transaction took place in May, l742; but it may not be unentertaining to our readers to learn something of the future occurrences of Mr. Annesley's life.
Mr. M'Kercher, the disinterested friend of Annesley, now determined to exert his utmost endeavours to obtain for him the state which was his undoubted right; and, with that view, took him to Ireland, where Mr. Annesley granted a lease to a person named Campbell, that the affair might be determined in a legal way. Campbell, taking possession of the estate of which he had thus obtained a lease, was driven from it by Lord Anglesea; on which a writ of ejectment was brought against the earl.
The cause was tried by a special jury of gentlemen of property, before the barons of the Exchequer in Ireland. More than a hundred witnesses were examined respecting the legitimacy of Mr. Annesley's birth, and the trial lasted fifteen days. Two servants who had lived in Lord Altham's family swore that Annesley was the son of a servant girl, who had been debauched by Lord Altham; and a popish priest swore that he baptized the child as a bastard: but, to invalidate this last evidence, another priest swore that the former had received two hundred pounds as a gratuity for what he had sworn.
Mr. Annesley's being the son of Lady Altham was proved by the evidence of three women servants, who lived in the family at the time of his birth; and above ten persons who were present at his christening swore to several circumstances respecting his birth. Two ladies proved on oath the reconciliation of of Lord and Lady Altham, who had resided at the house of the father of one of the deponents several months; and from thence the lady went into the country to be delivered.
It was sworn by a farmer that the child had been placed with him by Lord Altham as his son and heir; and that the farmer had boarded him, though he had never been paid; which, indeed, he attributed to the extravagant manner in which his lordship lived.
The attorney who had been employed to tamper with the witnesses against Mr. Annesley, on his trial at the Old Bailey, being brought to Ireland by Mr. M'Kercher, a doubt arose whether an attorney should reveal his client's secrets, when, after a debate of a whole day among the counsel, it was determined by the judges that the examination of the attorney ought to take place.
In consequence of this examination it appeared that several persons had been engaged to swear against Mr. Annesley at his trial in London; and at the singular trial in Dublin, of which we are now speaking, the judges remarked that there was oath against oath: at length, however, the jury determined that Mr. Annesley was the real son of Lord and Lady Altham. Notwithstanding this determination, the right heir could not take possession of his estate; for a writ of error was brought against the verdict, and writs of appeal were lodged in the Houses of Peers of England and Ireland, as the estates in question were situated partly in each kingdom. Mr. M'Kercher, having spent a considerable fortune in support of the claim of the injured party, was at length arrested for debt, and remained several years in prison; and, in the mean time, Mr. Annesley was married to the daughter of a farmer in whose house he had lodged, and lived afterwards in a most retired manner, being utterly disqualified, by his education and former way of life, from obtaining any decent support as a gentleman.
The Earl of Anglesea lived but a few years after the affair we have recorded, and left his estate greatly involved.
Mr. M'Kercher's situation now rendered him unable to minister to the necessities of Mr. Annesley, who occasionally obtained some small gratuities from the nobility, and died in the year 1761, after lingering out a life of perpetual anxiety and fruitless expectation; but he never took a gun in his hand from the time of his unhappily killing the poor man.
Of all the extraordinary characters we have had occasion to remark on in the course of this work, that of Mr. M'Kercher is one of the most singular and valuable. He took up the cause of an unfriended youth, of whom he knew nothing but from report, and supported him through a long, an arduous, and an intricate business; not, indeed, to the restitution of the sufferer, but to his own essential injury: for he spent more than ten thousand pounds in this pursuance of the rights of another.
Seldom shall we hear of so much disinterested benevolence as was displayed by this man; seldom hear of greater, and more undeserved injuries, than were sustained by Mr. Annesley!