LORD GEORGE BENTINCK'S RACING CAREER.— QUARREL WITH HIS COUSIN.—DUEL WITH SQUIRE OSBALDESTON.—"SURPLICE" WINS THE DERBY AND ST. LEGER.—ATTEMPTS TO POISON THE HORSE.—FRIENDSHIP WITH DISRAELI.—TRAGIC DEATH
Lord George Bentinck (1802-1848).
One of the great sensations in the middle of the nineteenth century was the mysterious death of Lord George Bentinck, who for many years was the prince of the turf, but who sold his racehorses in order to give more attention to politics and the spread of Protectionist principles, of which he was the leading exponent at that time.
Lord George was born in February 1802, the third son of the Farmer Duke; his elder brother, the Marquis of Titchfield, being that eccentric personage who succeeded to the Dukedom.
After going through the Eton College course and becoming an officer in the Lancers and Life Guards, Lord George took the seat vacated by the Marquis, as M.P. for King's Lynn, in 1826. His life was curiously intermingled with all sorts and conditions of men. Having the hereditary instincts of his family he was a keen votary of the turf and during early manhood had a partnership with his brother, the Marquis, in the ownership of racehorses, and it was said that at a later time they were both enamoured of Miss Annie May Berkeley, who was the cause of a quarrel between them.
That he was a nobleman of high spirits is evident from the strenuousness with which he lived his short life.
Lord George lost heavily by backing horses for the St. Leger of 1826; the amount was shown to be £30,000, which his mother and sister (Lady Charlotte) helped him to meet. The old Duke, his father, was too cautious to bet, and in order to induce his son to settle down to country pursuits he bought him an estate at Muirkirk, Ayrshire; but the life of a farmer did not suit Lord George for long and he was soon exploiting in horse-racing again, so that in 1833 he was a heavy loser at Goodwood.
He formed studs at Doncaster, Goodwood and Danebury, and at various times his horses were run in the name of Mr. John Bowe, a publican, Mr. King, the Duke of Richmond, and John Day.
Lord George and his consul, Mr. Charles Greville, were great friends and racing affairs for a time; but both were self-willed and quarrelled, never to heal up their differences.
In the intricacies of their partnership in horses Lord George became the owner of a mare called Preserve, who gained a great reputation about the year 1834.
At the Newmarket meeting there was an attempt to wear down her spirit by false starts, upon which Lord George visited his anger upon his cousin, whom he held responsible.
Years afterwards an attempt was made by Colonel Anson to bring about a reconciliation; but Lord George said he would not have anything to do with “the fellow.”
A great stroke was made in 1836 when Lord George won the St. Leger with Elis. It was the first time a horse was conveyed in a van from his training-stable to a racecourse.
A specially-constructed vehicle was made and caused consternation among old trainers when they found out the secret of the horse’s mode of travelling. Elis was fresh for the race, his advent had been kept a secret, and Lord George won a large sum, one bet being £12,000 to £61,000.
The sensational duel between Lord George and Squire Osbaldeston has passed into the history of racing.
It was 1836, but had its origin in events occurring in 1835. Heaton Park races, near Manchester, attracted a large number of aristocratic jockeys, and Squire Osbaldeston got it into his head that the handicaps were so adjusted as to give the immediate friends of Lord Wilton an advantage.
So the Squire laid himself out to be even with the Wilton party, and when at Doncaster, for the St. Leger, discovered a horse called Bush with powers of running unknown to the sporting clique he desired to circumvent.
The Squire mounted Rush himself and rode him over the St. Leger course, having a mare belonging to Marson the trainer to make the running. Finding that the colt could easily beat, Squire Osbaldeston held him in so that the mare finished the trial a considerable distance in advance.
Bush was consequently given the benefit of the handicapping at Heaton Park and was backed heavily for the cup by the Squire, whose commissioner was ready to meet the Lord Wilton party in any bets they thought well to lay against the colt.
“Two hundred to one against Rush” shouted Lord George Bentinck as Squire Osbaldeston was riding Bush at walking pace past the stand to the starting-post just before the race.
“Done,” replied the Squire.
The loud tones of the two men were such as to attract particular notice and the sequel was an exciting one.
The race was brought off and the Squire on Bush won with ease. Then followed a storm of argument as to how and why and wherefore had Bush's powers, so greatly deprecated beforehand, developed to such an extent as to leave all competitors behind.
Another victory was achieved by Bush next day and Squire Osbaldeston having defeated the Wilton clique on the racecourse betook himself hunting.
Some months elapsed before the next scene was enacted. Lord George had not settled the bet, and whether he intended to do so or not is an open question. Probably the Squire had not asked him for settlement till the Spring of 1836, when they were brought into contact with each other at the Craven race-meeting.
“My Lord,” said the Squire, “May I ask you for the £200 I won from you? You have had time to get over your beating.”
“I’m surprised you should ask for the money,” replied Lord George, “the affair was robbery; but can you count?”
The Squire rejoined something to the effect that he could count when he was at Eton, and Lord George then counted out a number of banknotes into Osbaldeston's hand.
“It will not end here, Lord George,” said the Squire in high dudgeon.
The conversation was at the entrance to the rooms of the Jockey Club, and shortly after it had taken place the Squire sent a second to demand an apology, or that Lord George would fight a duel. The challenge was declined, but the fiery Squire returned to the charge.
“I will pull your nose the next time I see you,” was the message he sent to his Lordship, who had no alternative but to meet in a duel or to be subjected to continuous annoyance from the doughty Osbaldeston.
Colonel Anson was named as Lord George’s second and the meeting-place was at Wormwood Scrubs at six a.m. The weapons were pistols and the antagonists stood twelve steps apart.
The Squire was a real country sportsman, a fine horseman and a dead shot, his skill with the pistol was such that he could kill pigeons flying and rarely missed, whereas the elegant Lord George was more at home in the boudoir and was unaccustomed to pistol-practice. Osbaldeston had given it out that he would put a bullet through his opponent, which was a rumour not pleasant to reach Lord George's ears.
It was through the finesse of Colonel Anson that the affair ended as it did. By agreement he was to count up to three and when he called the last number both men were to fire.
“One” was uttered with great deliberation.
“Two, three” the Colonel called out in rapid succession, so that the Squire was taken unawares and his shot went an inch or two above Lord George’s hair, piercing his hat.
As for Lord George he fired skywards and so the duel ended.
Colonel Anson and Lord George were friends for life, and years afterwards the quarrel with the Squire was so far made up that Lord George invited him to see his horses in training at Danebury. For the greater part of the period between 1830 and 1846 he was regarded as the Dictator of the Turf.
In 1841 he removed his stables from Danebury to Goodwood where his friend, the Duke of Richmond, allowed him every facility on his estate for training horses.
To his honour, be it said, he exercised a powerful influence in endeavouring to rid horse-racing of some of its worst features, and incurred the hostility of the cheats and rogues which have at all times been associated with it.
Finding that a check was being put upon their operations, the welshing fraternity assumed a virtuous attitude and actually put into operation an old statute passed in the reign of Queen Anne, which enabled any private informer to sue and recover treble the amount of a bet made over and above £10. Six writs were served upon Lord George and six upon his partner, Mr. Bowes, in the year 1843, but the plantiff failed to prove the making of the bets and it is obvious that the statute was unworkable. The attempt to put it into force merely shows the condition of racing at the time and the opposition which men who were honourable in their motives had to meet with in their efforts to guard it against reproach, as far as their sporting instincts allowed them.
In 1844 Lord George had as many as thirty-eight horses running in races, and his estimated expenses in 1845 for sixty horses in training were about £40,000, while, the value of the stakes was about £18,000, so that to make racing pay he had to rely upon the success of his betting transactions.
Disraeli called him the “Lord Paramount of the British Turf,” which well described his ascendency at the time.
Notwithstanding the magnitude of his bets, Lord George was always cool in temperament while other men who, though they might be quite able to stand a loss, were full of nervous excitement when only a small sum was risked.
He kept on terms of affection with his mother and sisters and he could always rely upon the Duchess for help when his racing extravagances had led him too far.
Lord George was over six feet in stature and his figure was handsome and distinguished. His style of dress was according to the best canons of fashion, elegant and fastidious. A long gold chain was looped upon the breast of his waistcoat and with it he wore costly jewels. He had a new satin scarf of cream colour every day, although the cost of each was about a sovereign.
A frock coat and tall beaver hat completed his costume. His race-course attire consisted of a green coat, top boots and buckskin breeches.
When in Nottinghamshire he used to hunt with the Rufford hounds and kept his hunters at Welbeck.
He was a Freemason, though he does not appear to have had time from his devotion to politics and racing to take any high position in the Order. As to some of his personal habits it may be said that he was not a smoker; but he drank four glasses of wine at dinner-time.
The figure of Lord George has been described by his friend Benjamin Disraeli, afterwards Earl of Beaconsfield, in a few striking sentences thus: “Nature had clothed this vehement spirit with a material form which was in perfect harmony with its noble and commanding character. He was tall and remarkable for his presence; his countenance almost a model of manly beauty; the face oval, the complexion clear and mantling; the forehead lofty and white; the nose aquiline and delicately moulded; the upper lip short. But it was in the dark brown eye that flashed with piercing scrutiny that all the character of the man came forth; a brilliant glance, not soft, but ardent, acute, imperious, incapable of deception or of being deceived."
He was a dandy rivalling d’Orsay, his cravats made other young men of his time envious, and his suits were in the highest style of taste. They were indeed works of art worthy of the genius of Beau Brummell. As for the House of Commons, until he turned serious politician, he treated that old-fashioned assembly with haughty indifference, and when he was pressed to record his vote in a party division he entered the House on more than one occasion at a late hour, “clad in a white greatcoat, which softened, but did not conceal, the scarlet hunting coat beneath it.”
He was a breeder and backer of horses for twenty years, and the recklessness of his wagers staggered the gamblers of his time.
The training of race-horses was brought to a fine art in his day. It had been the custom for owners to send their horses to and fro between Newmarket, Epsom and Doncaster along the highways, with the result that although the road hardened their muscles, it militated against their speed.
Lord George raised a protest from some of the old-time patrons of the turf by introducing an innovation in the construction of a large van in which they could travel calmly, without fatigue, these long distances to various parts of England.
It was the precursor of railway travelling then coming into vogue, for Lord George foresaw that the railways would revolutionize racing and enormously increase the votaries of the turf.
After having sat in the House of Commons for 18 years, and taking little interest in the proceedings, Lord George, about 1844, suddenly attracted attention by his attacks on Sir Robert Peel and the Free Traders. He showed an aptitude for Parliamentary business that he had not been credited with in racing circles in which he had held such a leading position. His absorption in politics, which had newly aroused his interest, led him to dispose of his race-horses.
“In the autumn of this year (1846) at Goodwood races,” says Disraeli, “the sporting world was astonished by hearing that Lord George Bentinck had parted with his racing stud at an almost nominal price. Lord George was present, as was his custom, at this meeting held in the demesne of one who was among his dearest friends. Lord George was not only present, but apparently absorbed in the sport, and his horses were very successful. The world has hardly done justice to the great sacrifice which he made on this occasion to a high sense of duty. He not only parted with the finest racing stud in England, but he parted with it at a moment when its prospects were never so brilliant; and he knew this well.
“He could scarcely have quitted the turf that day without a pang. He had become the Lord Paramount of that strange world, so difficult to sway, and which requires, for its government, both a stern resolve and a courtly breeding. He had them both; and though the black-leg might quail before the awful scrutiny of his piercing eye, there never was a man so scrupulously polite to his inferiors as Lord George Bentinck. The turf, too, was not merely the scene of the triumphs of his stud and his betting-book. He had purified its practice and had elevated its character, and he was prouder of this achievement than of any other connected with his sporting life. Notwithstanding his mighty stakes, and the keenness with which he backed his opinion, no one perhaps ever cared less for money. His habits were severely simple, and he was the most generous of men. He valued the acquisition of money on the turf, because there it was the test of success. He counted his thousands after a great race, as a victorious general counts his cannon and his prisoners.”
Up to the time that he developed a new interest in politics, his great ambition in life had been for one of his horses to win the Derby. And one of the horses that he had owned did win it; but to his chagrin it was no longer his property. That horse was Surplice, the winner in the year 1848; but Lord George had disposed of it with his stud in 1846.
Under any circumstances and whatever the prospects of political success which opened up in Lord George’s mind, his decision to dispose of his stud must have caused him a pang as it created a sensation among all who were attracted towards turf doings.
There were two horses in Lord George’s stables, which, if he could have laid claim to the powers of divination would have kept him still “Lord Paramount of the Turf.” They were the yearlings Surplice and Loadstone, and both were destined to make historic names in the classic races.
But the die was cast and the immense establishment which his friend the Duke of Richmond permitted him to keep on the Goodwood estate was sold.
There were no fewer than 208 thoroughbreds, which all passed into the hands of the Hon. E. M. L. Mostyn, for the small sum of £10,000.
This was in August, 1846, and the light-blue jacket and white cap of Lord George Bentinck were to be seen no more on a race-course.
The stables had been on such an immense scale that the responsibility was too much for one man to undertake, so that the monetary interest was divided, and two or three turf celebrities of the day entered into partnership, which accounts for the fact that when Surplice ran in the Derby of 1848 he was entered in Lord Clifden’s name.
From that time to this the career of Surplice has always been of interest to racing men. His trainer was John Kent, who faithfully discharged his duty in guarding the horse from the machinations of unscrupulous loafers and touts.
There was a dead set against the horse. He was naturally a lazy runner and took a great deal of skill to ride. All sorts of rumours were started about him; that he was not well, that he was lame and that he was not the equal of Loadstone, although from the same stable. Up and down went the betting respecting Surplice until the market was in such a state that it was to the interest of an unscrupulous gang to poison or lame him.
Detectives, policemen, trainer and stablemen had to watch him night and day and the excitement waxed intense as the date of the Derby drew near. When the horse was taken from Goodwood to Epsom and from the stable to the course a crowd of horsemen and pedestrians dogged his steps.
Fortunately, with all the precaution taken, Surplice was got into the paddock in fit condition. His jockey was Sim Templeman and after a severe contest Surplice won, there being a neck between him and Springy Jack, while Loadstone was well beaten, to the chagrin of those who had tried to set him off against the better horse Surplice.
The result of the race was £11,000 to the credit of Lord George; but this was nothing compared with his regret that he had not continued the owner of his racing-stud, so that he might have had the honour of winning the Derby in his own name, instead of seeing a horse that he had bred win it in the name of another. Then came the St. Leger of 1848, and Surplice was again the winner, with further pangs for Lord George. Barely does the same horse win both the Derby and the St. Leger, and proud indeed is the owner who can carry off the blue ribbon of the turf and the St. Leger too. The stars in their courses seemed to be against Lord George at this time.
This is how Disraeli relates the effect the Derby had upon his hero:—“A few days before, it was the day after the Derby, May 25th, 1848, the writer (Disraeli) met Lord George Bentinck in the Library of the House of Commons. He was standing before the book-shelves with a volume in his hand, and his countenance was greatly disturbed. His resolutions in favour of the colonial interest, after all his labours, had been negatived by the committee on the 22nd, and on the 24th, his horse, Surplice, which he had parted with among the rest of the stud, solely that he might pursue without distraction his labours on behalf of the great interests of the country, had won that paramount and Olympian stake, to gain which had been the object of his life. He had nothing to console him, and nothing to sustain him except his pride. Even that deserted him before a heart which he knew at least could yield him sympathy. He gave a sort of superb groan:
“‘All my life I have been trying for this, and for what have I sacrificed it ?’ he murmured.
“It was in vain to offer solace.’
“‘You do not know what the Derby is,’ he moaned out.
“‘Yes I do, it is the blue ribbon of the turf.’
“‘It is the blue ribbon of the turf,’ he slowly repeated to himself, and sitting down at the table he buried himself in a folio of statistics.”
In a personal allusion to the arduous political labours of Lord George Bentinck, Disraeli says: “What was not his least remarkable trait, is that although he only breakfasted on dry toast, he took 110 sustenance all this time, dining at White’s at half-past two o'clock in the morning. After his severe attack of influenza he broke through this habit a little during the last few months of his life, moved by the advice of his physician and the instance of his friends. The writer of these observations prevailed upon him a little the last year to fall into the easy habit of dining at Bellamy's, which saves much time and permits the transaction of business in conversation with a congenial friend. But he grudged it; he always thought that something would be said or done in his absence, which would not have occurred had he been there; some motion whisked through or some return altered. His principle was that a member should never be absent from his seat.”
Disraeli thus describes the last farewell he took of Lord George and his tragic death a few days afterwards:
“He goes to his native county and his father’s proud domain, to breathe the air of his boyhood and move amid the parks and meads of his youth. Every breeze will bear health, and the sight of every hallowed haunt will stimulate his pulse. He is scarcely older than Julius Caesar when he commenced his public career, he looks as high and brave, and he springs from a long-lived race.
“He stood upon the perron of Harcourt House, the last of the great hotels of an age of stately manners, with its wings and courtyard, and carriage portal, and huge outward walls. He put forth his hand to bid farewell, and his last words are characteristic of the man, of his warm feelings, and of his ruling passion: ‘God bless you; we must work, and the country will come round us.’”
A few days after this interview Lord George returned to Welbeck.
“Some there were who thought him worn by the exertion of the session, and that an unusual pallor had settled upon that mantling and animated countenance. He himself never felt in better health or was ever in higher spirits, and greatly enjoyed the change of life, and that change in a scene so dear to him.
“On the 21st of September, 1848, after breakfasting with his family, he retired to his dressing-room, where he employed himself with some papers and then wrote three letters, one to Lord Enfield, another to the Duke of Richmond, and the third to the writer of these pages. That letter is now at hand; it is of considerable length, consisting of seven sheets of notepaper, full of interesting details of men and things, and written not only in a cheerful but even in a merry mood. Then, when his letters were sealed, about four o'clock he took his staff and went forth to walk to Thoresby, the seat of Lord Manvers, distant between five and six miles from Welbeck, and where Lord George was to make & visit of two days. In consequence of this his valet drove over to Thoresby at the same time to meet his master. But the master never came. At length the anxious servant returned to Welbeck, and called up the groom who had driven him over to Thoresby, and who was in bed, and enquired whether he had seen anything of Lord George on the way back, as his Lord had never reached Thoresby. The groom got up, and along with the valet and two others, took lanthorns and followed the footpath which they had seen Lord George pursuing as they themselves went to Thoresby.
"About a mile from the Abbey, on the path which they had observed him following, lying close to the gate which separates a water meadow from the deer park, they found the body of Lord George Bentinck. He was lying on his face; his arms were under his body, and in one hand he grasped his walking-stick. His hat was a yard or two before him, having evidently been thrown off in falling. The body was cold and stiff. He had been long dead.
"A woodman and some peasants passing near the spot, about two hundred yards from the gate in question, had observed Lord George, whom at the distance they had mistaken for his brother, the Marquis of Titchfield, leaning against this gate. It was then about half-past four o'clock, or it might be a quarter to five, so he could not have left his home much more than half-an-hour. The woodman and his companions thought 'the gentleman' was reading, as he held his head down. One of them lingered for a minute looking at the gentleman, who then turned round, and might have seen these passers-by, but he made no sign to them.
"Thus it seems that the attack, which was supposed to be a spasm of the heart, was not instantaneous in its effects, but with proper remedies, might have been baffled. Terrible to think of him in his death-struggle without aid and so near a devoted hearth. For that hearth too, what an inpending future!
"The terrible news reached Nottingham on the morning of the 22nd, at half-past nine o'clock, and immediately telegraphed to London, was announced by a second edition of the Times to the country. Consternation and deep grief fell upon all men. One week later, the remains arrived from "Welbeck at Harcourt House, to be entombed in the family vault of the Bentincks, that is to be found in a small building in a dingy street, now a chapel of ease, but in old days the Parish Church among the fields of the pretty village of Marylebone.
"The day of the interment was dark and cold, and drizzling. Although the last offices were performed in the most scrupulously private manner, the feelings of the community could not be repressed. Prom nine till eleven o'clock that day all the British shipping in the docks and the river, from London Bridge to Gravesend, hoisted their flags half-mast high, and minute guns were fired from appointed stations along the Thames. The same mournful ceremony was observed in all the ports of England and Ireland; and not only in these, for the flag was half-mast high on every British ship at Antwerp, at Rotterdam, at Havre.
"Ere the last minute gun sounded all was over. Followed to his tomb by those brothers who, if not consoled, might at this moment be sustained by the remembrance that to him they had ever been brothers, not only in name but in spirit, the vault at length closed on the mortal remains of George Bentinck."
Such was the conventional view which Society took of the sad circumstances of Lord George's death.
The old Duke was over eighty years of age and too infirm to attend the funeral, but the Marquis of Titchfield and Lord Henry Bentinck were present.
As in most mysteries, there were other conjectures more or less improbable.
Years afterwards it was put down to the account of Palmer the poisoner, who it was said had administered strychnine to Lord George as he did to some other members of the aristocracy.
But what was Palmer's motive ?
Had Lord George and he any betting transactions together in which Palmer had lost, and finding himself unable to pay, destroyed his noble creditor with diabolical secrecy?
Yet Palmer in 1848 was a young doctor, aged about twenty-three, just setting out on his professional career.
It was not until a few years afterwards that Palmer commenced to turn his attention to turf transactions, therefore it is difficult to find a motive which should be some evidence against him as the perpetrator of this crime.
The case of Palmer was an extraordinary one. He was a medical practitioner at Rugeley in Staffordshire, and having become infatuated with betting had no scruples about removing those to whom he had contracted debts of honour. It was not till the early months of 1856 that light was shed upon some of his fiendish designs and after a long trial he was sentenced to be hanged at Stafford gaol.
Palmer boasted of his racing transactions with the aristocracy, and if Lord George was one of his victims seven years before 1856, the miscreant had had plenty of time to harden his conscience in working his foul plots against others whom it was his sordid interest to destroy.
Another wild theory was that there had been a quarrel between the Marquis of Titchfield and Lord George.
One reason for the dispute was alleged to be that Lord George had been a heavy loser instead of a gainer by his gigantic gambling operations, that he was in want of money, either from his brother the Marquis, or his father, the Duke.
To allege that he was in debt is not consistent with the belief that he had won large sums by backing horses of which he was so keen a judge.
Again it was surmised that the reason for the quarrel—if there was one—was Miss A. M. Berkeley, with whom they were reputed to be both enamoured.
The origin of this lady gives a glimpse of another romance. Her mother was an exceedingly beautiful lady, the daughter of a tradesman, and she became the wife of the Earl of Berkeley.
Fanny Kemble writes of the Countess in terms of admiration; but alludes to the marriage with the addition of the phrase ("by courtesy") and how, on being presented at Court she was frowned at by Queen Charlotte, though George III. did not share the unfavourable sentiments entertained by his wife.
The marriage with the Earl was the subject of a cause celebre before the House of Lords, with the result that the ceremony was held to be illegal, which thus affected the position of Miss A. M. Berkeley.
Mrs. Margaret Jane Louise Hamilton, a widow lady, the daughter of Mr. Robert Lennox Stuart, made a startling statement which was widely reported in the newspapers at the time that the Druce case assumed a new aspect in 1903. She said that she had been told the details of the death of Lord George Bentinck by her father, who was an eye-witness of the quarrel—if quarrel there was.
Her father was a playmate of the Duke’s when they were boys, and she herself was a goddaughter of the fourth Duke.
Not only was Mr. Stuart an eye-witness, but she said Mr. Sergeant, another gentleman, was too.
Lord George was violent in manner towards the Marquis (whom Mrs. Hamilton identified as Mr. Druce) using threatening language towards him and striking him repeatedly.
At last the Marquis retaliated with one blow over the heart, and although it was not a heavy blow, the position where it struck was sufficient to cause death.
Mrs. Hamilton added that she had heard Druce say to her father, “You know, Stuart, I never intended to kill him. I only struck in self-defence.”
Druce was remorseful after the tragedy and spoke of surrendering to the police, but Mr Stuart and Mr. Sergeant persuaded him not to.
Her father said that Druce was nervous and always afraid that the deed would come to light.
Whether the Marquis was there or not to quarrel with his brother, the labourers who said they thought they recognised him, acknowledged that they might have been mistaken.
A point which the evidence at the inquest did not clear up was the whereabouts of the Marquis at the time of the tragedy. The labourers said they thought they saw him.
If it was not he, where was he?
That is a question unanswered to this day.
Lord George was never married, and it has been said of him that "he was notable for the purity of his life."
It was believed that he entertained a deep regard for a highly-placed married lady, whose virtue was beyond suspicion, and hence he lived and died a bachelor.
Three years after the death of Lord George it is said that the Marquis married Miss Annie May Berkeley in the name of Druce.