Biographies & Memoirs

010

7

Loathsome Weeds

Cape Town, January 1778

Returning to his lodgings in Cape Town at the end of his first expedition into the inhospitable interior of southern Africa, William Paterson was exhausted but inspired. As he unpacked the bounty of seeds, bulbs and dried plants that he had collected, along with his bulging notebook and exquisite paintings, the 22-year-old gardener could hardly wait to set off exploring again. Having arrived in Cape Town in May the previous year after a testing three-month voyage, Paterson had spent the intervening months acquainting himself with the exotic landscape.1 It was a far cry from his homeland in Scotland.

Born in August 1755, in the little village of Kinnettles near Forfar, just four miles from Glamis, William Paterson was the son of a gardener who worked on a nearby estate. Nothing about his early life is known beyond the fact that he followed in his father’s footsteps, taking a keen interest in plants, and that, judging from his later writings, he enjoyed little formal education. He may have trained as an apprentice gardener at Syon Park, home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland on the opposite side of the Thames from Kew, for he had certainly become friendly with William Forsyth, a fellow Scot who was head gardener there from 1763 to 1771. A letter to Forsyth written a week after his arrival in Cape Town sent compliments to ‘Mrs Forsyth and all the family and my old fellow servants’.2 Equally, he may have been apprenticed to Forsyth after the latter took charge of Chelsea Physic Garden, the Society of Apothecaries’ medicinal garden beside the Thames, in 1771.

How Paterson, a poorly educated but bright young gardener with dark hair and deep brown eyes, had come to the attention of Mary Eleanor Bowes in 1776 is a mystery. Conceivably she had met him as a youth when he lived near Glamis, or alternatively through her northern neighbour, the Duchess of Northumberland, whose balls she had enjoyed as a child. Most probably, however, Paterson had been recommended as a suitable candidate for her botanical mission by one of Mary’s friends within her scientific network. He had, of course, attended a Royal Society meeting with Solander in May 1776; no doubt he had read Francis Masson’s account of his Cape travels published in the society’s Philosophical Transactions later that year; and in all likelihood he would have studied Masson’s African spoils transplanted into the new hothouse at Kew. One visitor in May 1776, the Reverend Michael Tyson, had marvelled: ‘Mr Masson showed me the New World in his amazing Cape hothouse, erica 140 species, many protea, geranium and cliffortias more than 50.’3 Certainly, by the time he set sail from Plymouth on 9 February 1777, less than a month after Mary’s second marriage, young Paterson felt confident in the knowledge that his entire trip was being bankrolled by his generous patron. ‘In this undertaking, I account myself particularly fortunate in having been patronized by the Honourable Lady Strathmore,’ he would later write, ‘whose zeal for botanical researches induced her readily to accede to the proposal of exploring an unknown country in search of new plants, and to honour me with her protection and support.’4

Having disembarked in Cape Town at the start of the southern African winter, Paterson had delayed any serious exploration until travelling conditions improved. In the meantime, for all his lack of education, he had successfully insinuated himself into the elite social circle of the settlement’s white colonialists and undertook some minor excursions to accustom himself to the habitat. One of these entailed an arduous climb up Table Mountain in the company of Captain Robert Gordon, a highly intelligent and urbane army officer who had been born in Holland to a family of Scottish descent. Having previously visited the Cape in 1773, Gordon had returned in 1777 as second-in-command of the Dutch garrison that controlled the region. Immediately forming a strong bond with the Scottish gardener, with whom he shared a passion for natural history, Gordon would later say that Paterson’s ‘pleasant personality gave me very much companionship’.5 Also joining the merry climbing party was William Hickey, the rakish lawyer who had arrived at the Cape en route for Calcutta. In Hickey’s naive estimation, Paterson was ‘a great botanist’ who had been employed to collect rare plants and natural curiosities ‘by that strange and eccentric woman, Lady Strathmore’.6

Recounting the little expedition with pleasure, Hickey wrote that Gordon and Paterson had called on him at 4 a.m. to begin the ascent. Although Hickey would describe the climb as ‘dreadfully steep and rugged’, in truth it was far more onerous for the servants burdened with the travellers’ baggage and refreshments. After a few hours’ climb, the party stopped for breakfast in a large cave where Hickey discovered ‘a table spread with tea, coffee, cold ham, fowls, with other articles of food, all of the best kind’. While the party ate and enjoyed the stunning view of Cape Town, they were serenaded by two servants on flutes. It was, Hickey concluded, the ‘pleasantest breakfast I ever made’. It took two more hours to reach the summit, where further nourishment awaited the climbers in a previously erected tent, along with chilled wine and two French horn players. When Hickey said goodbye to Paterson a few weeks later to continue his journey to India, he declared his newfound friend ‘an ingenious young man’. It would be under quite different circumstances that they would meet again.

After his easy introduction to the region, Paterson had embarked on his first lengthy expedition as soon as weather conditions improved in October, heading due east from Cape Town in pursuit of the promised plants and seeds for his patron. He had not been disappointed. Although pioneer botanists had first explored the immediate vicinity of the Cape in the seventeenth century, the wider region had remained largely untouched by Europeans - and its floral treasures undiscovered - until the 1770s. In 1772, not one but three professional plant collectors had landed at the Cape in search of botanical enlightenment: Carl Peter Thunberg and Anders Sparrman, both Swedes, followed six months later by Masson on his royal quest. Companionably, Masson and Thunberg had teamed up for two expeditions, joined briefly by the capable Captain Gordon on his first Cape visit. Gordon’s linguistic skills - he spoke Dutch, English, French, German and Gaelic and quickly mastered several native languages - no doubt aided communications. Although Sparrman had left just as Masson arrived, taking Masson’s berth on Cook’s Resolution, he had returned to the Cape in 1775 for a further two years’ botanical study. Beginning his explorations just five years after these pioneers, in October 1777, young Paterson was still one of the first Europeans - and only the second British traveller - to penetrate the enticing Cape interior.

Travelling on horseback with his good friend Gordon, their baggage and provisions sent ahead in carts pulled by oxen, Paterson had followed the coastline before striking out over mountain terrain and grasslands as far as Beervlei at the confluence of the Kariega and Sout Rivers. On the way he discovered an abundance of strange and wonderful flora of varieties he had never seen before. ‘Here I found a species of Erica, which was quite new,’ he recorded excitedly, ‘with a spike of long tubelar yellow flowers, the most beautiful I had ever seen.’7 Meticulously collecting and describing the specimens he found, Paterson produced exquisite pictures - or had an accompanying draughtsman execute them for him; the identity of the artist remains uncertain.8 Dogged and resourceful, Paterson spared no pains in his mission, at one time almost drowning when attempting to swim across a swollen river at night, and on another occasion nearly plunging to his death when his horse stumbled on a steep precipice. Braving lions and hippopotami, foraging for food and water, the two explorers enjoyed the hospitality of the ‘Hottentot’ or Khoikhoi people and excitedly gave their names to natural features including Gordon’s and Paterson’s Bays.9 Reluctantly bidding the captain to continue without him when he fell ill, Paterson turned back in December. In poor health, but ‘with my collection much increased’ he arrived back in Cape Town on 13 January 1778.10 It was the first of four expeditions Paterson would undertake over the next two years. Eagerly planning his next trip, he was blissfully unaware that the financial patronage that he relied on to foot the bill had abruptly come to an end.

Seated at her desk in her dressing room at Gibside, filling page after page with her neat script, Mary could only dream of the convivial feasts, thrilling adventures and heady freedom being enjoyed by her roving gardener. Barred from walking her gardens and denied the company of her friends, 28-year-old Mary had become subdued and submissive. After a full year of Bowes’s beatings she had come to believe - like so many women in the same situation - that her own faults and failings were somehow responsible for the miseries she now endured. Accordingly, she had agreed to write for Bowes’s eyes alone a full and frank catalogue of her past ‘crimes’ and ‘imprudencies’ in an effort to make amends and start anew. Later she would claim that the account which Bowes would maliciously publish as The Confessions of the Countess of Strathmore, was completely false, composed at his dictation and extracted under the threat that she would never see her children again; on occasions she would even deny that she had written it at all.11 Yet there is no doubt that the hundred-page tract was written by Mary and that much of it is accurate and corroborated by other sources. Foot would agree that the text was ‘evidently extorted from her, under the tyranny of BOWES’and that it contained ‘many falsehoods’ but also, he averred, ‘some truths’. While its verisimilitude would remain in question, Mary’s candid description of her flirtations, love affairs and abortions would make it one of the most explosive documents to be published in the eighteenth century.

‘I have been guilty’, she began, ‘of five crimes.’12 First among these she numbered her ‘unnatural dislike’ of her eldest son, of which she had already long repented, followed by her affair with George Gray while Lord Strathmore was alive, her one attempted and three successful abortions, her broken pledge to marry Gray and - lastly and most poignantly - her subsequent marriage to Bowes, ‘which together with my previous connection with you, I reckon amongst my crimes’. Her ‘imprudencies’ took a good deal longer to relate, beginning with her innocent teenage romances, her extramarital dalliance with James Graham, her encouragement of a string of male admirers after Lord Strathmore’s death, her gullibility in visiting fortune-tellers, and a series of ill-judged but essentially harmless social errors in trusting too freely or acting too familiarly with servants and acquaintances. Her folly, she now decided, in trusting Eliza Planta, the Stephens brothers, Captain Magra and Mr Matra, had been ‘unpardonable’. ‘I was more than imprudent in encouraging and keeping company with people of such execrable and infamous principles,’ she submitted, ‘though, indeed, I did not think them such then; but that is no excuse for me, as I ought not to have trusted or allowed any body to have frequented my house, without a previous long acquaintance.’ Her greater folly in trusting the person with the most execrable and infamous principles of all, of equally short acquaintance, naturally passed unremarked. Above all she regretted entrusting her secrets to her disgraced footman George Walker, although whether she truly believed that he had since burnt his copy of her prenuptial deed, as she claimed, remained to be seen.

Looking back on her carefree childhood, to the tender upbringing and diligent education, she now blamed her father for a failure to instil ‘a proper sense of religion’ that might have prevented her later faults. Yet for all the snatched kisses and frothy letters she had exchanged with forward boys and rakish men since her father’s death, and despite her media-generated reputation for licentiousness, in reality her love-life had been relatively chaste - certainly in comparison to many of Georgian society’s more notorious characters. ‘I do assure you,’ she pleaded, ‘that no man ever took the smallest liberty with me (Lord S. yourself, and Mr G. excepted) except three or four times that Mr Stephens kissed me, under one pretence or other; and once or twice that Mr G. S. as we were standing by the fire-side, put his arm around my waist.’

But if the description of Mary’s indiscretions showed her in a poor light, the document which Bowes would later have no qualms about publishing revealed him in a far blacker guise. Laying before her husband a ‘full account of every thing I ever did, said, or thought, that was wrong’, Mary revealed that in return he had made her a promise never to ‘repeat past grievances’; whether this referred to his brutality or his philandering was unspecified. That she had already suffered repeatedly from his violent outbursts was evident from her comment, ‘I fear you are of an unforgiving, and in this respect, unforgetting temper; else you could not, for so many months together, have behaved so uniformly cruel to one whose wish and study was to please you.’ With her spirit almost broken by her twelve months under Bowes’s autocratic rule, she declared: ‘I am already so loaded with misery that there is only one curse which is not mine already.’ That one curse - to die - she now called upon herself should her confessions prove untrue. Seemingly bewildered at her husband’s ‘more than usual share of dislike to me’, she plaintively promised ‘if it please God to give me strength and resolution to trail out my existence till even you are convinced, by my example, that a person who has once been vicious, may repent and become good’.

Well aware that by her candid admissions she had provided Bowes with a fresh crop of excuses to ill-treat her, she submitted, ‘but you are my husband - I obey you, and if you continue to distrust, abuse, and think of me as you have hitherto done, Providence must and will decide which of us two is most to blame’. Begging her husband to burn her confessions, or otherwise destroy them, when she died, ‘that I may not stand condemned and disgraced, under my own hand, to posterity’, she pleaded with him to forgive ‘all my sins and faults’. Yet even as Mary wrote the final words to her own denunciation on 2 February, Bowes was far from satisfied. Bursting into her dressing room that evening, he snatched up the sheets of writing and berated her for including trivial events in minute detail. At the same time he demanded that she admit to faking the ‘fits’ that she had suffered since childhood. A master of pretended illness and injury himself, Bowes refused to accept that the mysterious attacks which had occurred several times in their first year of marriage - quite possibly brought on by anxiety - were genuine; naturally, his physician friend, Dr Scott, had readily concurred. Keeping a tiny flicker of her old independence alive, Mary refused to submit to this diagnosis, insisting that her fits were authentic. Finally, swearing the truth of her testament on the Bible, Mary added the date, 3 February 1778, to the last page and hoped that her months of torture were at an end.

Far from honouring his side of the bargain, Bowes was emboldened by Mary’s surrender to his will, pocketing her ‘confessions’ with unconcealed pleasure. Furnished with this unremitting account of dissipation, sexual precocity and unnatural maternal feelings, he knew that she was more in his power than ever. It was only upon reading this testament, he would later claim, that his eyes had been opened to his wife’s true nature. From this point on, he would argue, he was forced to watch her conduct closely and control her actions accordingly. Indeed, just as Mary had feared, her self-confessed ‘sins’ would provide not only Bowes, but his apologists down the years, with justification for the most outrageous extremes of brutality.

True to his word, Bowes redoubled his campaign of repression. Squandering Mary’s fortune on gambling, presents for his mistresses and lavish entertainments for his Newcastle cronies, Bowes kept Mary impoverished and virtually imprisoned at Gibside. Deprived of money, prevented from buying new clothes and frequently half starved - the cook and kitchen maids were instructed only to take orders from Bowes - Mary’s once plump face now looked gaunt, her formerly opulent gowns shabby. Skilfully disguising his neglect and abuse, Bowes hoodwinked the servants and guests into believing the Gibside mistress was eccentric, slovenly and accident-prone. Mary’s genuine short-sightedness was conveniently blamed for the numerous occasions on which she supposedly bumped into doors, fell down stairs or singed her hair in the fire; her dishevelled appearance was ascribed to her lack of interest in clothes; her apparent loss of appetite on her faddy tastes. Schooled by Bowes, Mary frequently appeared impolite or deranged in company. On occasions he would warn her only to reply yes or no to any question, at other times only to say that the weather was hot or cold, and sometimes to refuse to speak at all, so that guests presumed her to be mad, rude or stupid. If she deviated at all from this prearranged behaviour, Bowes would briskly administer ‘a threatening frown, a sly pinch, or a kick with his foot’ out of sight of his guests.13

Just as he had done with his first wife, Bowes cleverly sculpted a public image of Mary as truculent, difficult and disordered. Meanwhile, he presented himself as the aggrieved husband, tenderly attempting to guide his awkward wife. Feigning concern for her wellbeing whenever he was away from home, he would frequently despatch messages enquiring after her health and her appetite. As contrived as his sham duel, the performance was a meticulously planned fiction which Mary would find difficult to shake.

Behind closed doors, his brutality intensified. ‘In 1778 he beat me several times,’ wrote Mary, ‘particularly once with a thick stick, the head of which was heavy with lead; and with the handle of a horsewhip, which he had then in his hand, being just come in from hunting’.14 Now drinking heavily, Bowes would return from his nights on the town inebriated and enraged. One Newcastle friend, who found it hard to keep pace, complained that Bowes’s carousing often lasted into the early hours, after which ‘one is sure to be in a Condition in which no Man would wish to be in the Streets’.15 Inevitably Mary bore the brunt of his drunken rages, submitting to his violence in private just as she colluded with his charade in public. By now the servants had learned to turn a blind eye to their mistress’s cuts and bruises, accepting the tales of her clumsiness without question rather than risking their master’s wrath themselves. Nevertheless they observed the change in Mary’s demeanour. One maid who worked for Mary before and after her marriage to Bowes noted the ‘great alteration in her deportment’ and remarked: ‘Her Ladyship appeared dejected, and to have no will of her own.’ Another, who had stayed on after the marriage, overheard Bowes order Mary to tell the servants she had received a black eye by accident and stated: ‘His whole behaviour was cruel and ill-natured in general, and not confined to particular instances.’16

Living in fear of the violence her husband meted out, Mary knew that there was little she could do in her defence. Marital violence is as old as marriage itself; during the eighteenth century wife-beating was not only common and widely tolerated but even supported by law. One legal manual, first published in 1736, explained that husbands could lawfully beat their wives to keep them to their duties, although it cautioned that such chastisement should not be ‘violent or cruel’. Another popular legal writer described a husband’s right to ‘give his wife moderate correction’, since by law he was liable for her conduct, but argued that this should be kept ‘within reasonable bounds’.17 One well-known judge, Francis Buller, would even proclaim that a husband could lawfully chastise his wife as long as he used a stick no bigger than his thumb, earning himself the nickname ‘Judge Thumb’ in the process. Yet even when wives suffered sustained and severe violence, they had little recourse in law. Although a wife could swear ‘articles of peace’ against her husband if she feared life-threatening injury, the Church courts could still compel her to return to the marital home for ‘restitution of conjugal rights’. And while the same Church courts could grant a separation on grounds of cruelty, this was allowed only rarely, in cases of extreme and repeated violence deemed unjustifiable by the all-male judges. Virtually powerless to curb his conduct, Mary simply endured her husband’s rages in silence. But content no longer to abuse only his wife, Bowes now endeavoured to lure others into his control.

In May 1778, Bowes recruited a chaplain, the Reverend Samuel Markham, who joined the Gibside household along with his wife Jane. That month - just as William Paterson set out on his second expedition at the Cape - Bowes embarked for Ireland, taking ship from Port-patrick in Scotland, with Mary and the Markhams in tow. Whether he took the infant Mary, now nine months old, to present to his family as his first-born is unknown; a good three months chubbier than her pretended age, she may well have remained with a nursemaid at Gibside.

The purpose of the visit was most probably a desire by Bowes to capitalise on the lands he still owned in Ireland; exacting an advantageous price for them from his relatives had plagued him for several years. It was nevertheless a first opportunity for Mary Eleanor to meet her in-laws and their ever-expanding family in Tipperary. Elizabeth Stoney, her mother-in-law, had given birth to her eleventh child, George Stoney junior, just four years earlier. Despite the haughty letters that Mary had been forced by Bowes to write to his father, she made a favourable impression on the family - an affection which proved mutual, especially between Mary and her namesake, Bowes’s twenty-year-old sister. When the Bowes retinue returned to England the following month, Mary Stoney accompanied them, encouraged by her ambitious mother in the face of heartfelt objections from her father. The chance to enjoy the English social scene, under the escort of her handsome big brother and his well-connected wife, seemed too tempting an opportunity for a lively young woman of marriageable age. Before leaving Ireland Bowes promised his father that he would send his sister home within six months. He had no such intention.

Back at Gibside in time for the Newcastle races in June, Bowes introduced his sister into polite northern society, taking pains as always to present himself to his potential electorate as the courteous husband, brother and benefactor. One society belle, Judith Milbanke, delightedly reported partnering Bowes at the city’s splendid new assembly rooms. ‘I . . . had the honour to open the Ball with a double Minuet, Lady Strathmore & Lord Fielding at Top, your humble servant & Mr Bowes at bottom.’18 Cutting a commanding figure on the dance floor, Bowes never lost his touch with the ladies; a generous subscriber to the new assembly rooms, he knew just as effectively how to charm the city’s dignitaries.19

Yet the seemingly cosy family scenario belied the bleak truth. Well aware that his play-acting would not pass muster with the shrewd Mrs Bowes, Bowes forbade Mary from any private conversation with her mother and scrutinised their correspondence. Nevertheless, rumours of his ill-treatment and scandalous conduct had already reached Mrs Bowes’s ears and she now urged Mary to leave him - despite the inevitable social outcry this would generate - even if she refused to believe the tales of physical violence. Knowing the grief it would cause her mother to hear the truth and hopeful she could still reform her abuser, Mary denied that Bowes mistreated her.20 But just as Bowes curtailed her connections with her immediate family, so the law now conspired to sever all links with her children.

That June, just after her return from Ireland, Mary was forced to surrender her five children by Lord Strathmore to their three other guardians, as Chancery made them wards of court.21 Not bothering even to consult their mother, Thomas Lyon immediately removed six-year-old George and five-year-old Thomas from their grandmother’s home and sent them to join their brother John, now nine, at his school in Neasden. The two girls, Maria, now ten, and Anna, just turned eight, were summarily packed off to a girls’ boarding school in Queen’s Square, London. Distraught at being forced to give up all rights to her children, Mary consoled herself with the belief that the other guardians would grant her reasonable access; in reality, she hoped, she would see them scarcely less than she already did. Her optimism was sorely misguided. From the moment that Lyon gained charge of his nephews and nieces - and the funds set aside to maintain them - he enacted a vice-like control over their daily lives. Dictating every aspect of their education and their leisure time, austere Uncle Thomas moulded the children to his demanding ideals, while poisoning their minds against their mother. And not only would they rarely be granted visits to their mother, separated by their schooling they would hardly see each other. When Lyon, at the family home in County Durham he had now inherited from his late mother, was unable to oversee their activities, he dragooned his sister, Lady Anne Simpson, to supervise the youngsters in London. As parsimonious as his brother had been profligate, Lyon maintained meticulous accounts of the children’s expenses which survive even now: their bills for shoes, clothes, medicine, haircuts, books and lessons, their accounts for tuition, board and pocket money, all folded and bound in tiny bundles as sad mementoes of their carefully monitored and catalogued young lives.

So the girls’ first outings to the opulent West End shops to choose the colourful silks and satins for their first grown-up gowns, to be fitted for their first stays, to buy dancing pumps, gloves and fans for their first balls and theatre trips, were supervised not by their mother but by Aunt Anne with the bills forwarded to Uncle Thomas.22 When George, always a sickly child, fell ill that autumn, his tutors sent for the apothecary to bring his ineffectual potions to the boy’s bedside in Neasden - and forwarded the medical bill to Lyon - rather than let his mother mop his fevered forehead. When Maria visited the dentist four times within twelve months, always an excruciating experience before the advent of anaesthesia, it was without her mother’s hand to squeeze. And as all five children progressed at their lessons in reading, writing, French, drawing, music and history, their mother - who placed such importance on her own education - was denied any opportunity to encourage, praise or take pride in their achievements. Each of the children would cope in their own way. Maria, the eldest and most conscious of social correctness, readily conformed to her uncle’s exacting regime and grew close to her socially adept aunt, while wayward Anna remained alert for opportunities to rebel. For the two youngest boys, having scarcely seen their mother since infancy, there would be little lasting memory of her. And John, the quiet and thoughtful head of the little family, simply tried his best to appease both sides.

As appeals and counter-appeals against the Chancery decision lumbered on over the ensuing years, Mary’s efforts to see her children would become more and more desperate. In all her attempts to gain access, Bowes would be solidly supportive; naturally it suited his purposes to exert control over the young Gibside heirs. That December, therefore, Bowes wrote to Lyon on Mary’s behalf asking that the children be allowed to stay with them over the Christmas holidays.23 Offering no reason, for he saw no cause to explain his actions to the children’s mother, Lyon bluntly replied that he and his fellow guardians ‘cannot agree to your Ladyship’s request’. Knowing that the children were still allowed visits to their grandmother, who would at least ensure that they remembered their mother, Mary reluctantly accepted the decision.

It was another lonely Christmas at Gibside. As William Paterson set out on his third expedition at the height of the Cape summer that December, Mary watched helplessly from her windows as Bowes destroyed swathes of winter woodland in an effort to raise funds from the valuable timber. Once more beset by debts, Bowes insisted that they stay in the north to avoid his creditors and save money. ‘I have given up all idea of going this winter to London,’ he told his financial agent, William Davis, ‘as I can live here for half the expence; beside I can never be happy TILL I GET OUT OF DEBT, and have money, if possible, to the good’.24 Besieging Davis with instructions to take out insurance policies on Mary’s life, in order to guarantee the numerous annuities he was arranging to raise extra funds, Bowes drove a hard bargain over interest rates.

Perpetually irritated over money matters, Bowes vented his frustrations on the captive little group within the Gibside walls. Markham’s religious cloth afforded him no protection from his employer’s wrath, for later he would testify that Bowes worked himself into ‘the most violent passions upon the most frivolous occasions’ and often behaved ‘in a very cross savage manner without any Provocations’.25 On one occasion, towards the end of January 1779, as the elderly chaplain dutifully said grace before dinner, Bowes retorted: ‘Damn your Mercies. I want none of mercy.’ A few evenings later, Bowes walked into the parlour to find the parson engrossed in conversation - probably with Mary and her sister-in-law - and lunged at the poor man with a barrage of blows for the simple reason that he had remained chatting too long after dinner. The Markhams promptly packed their bags and left. For the two Marys there was no such hope of escape.

No sooner had Mary Stoney passed through the gates of the Gibside estate than she realised her error in leaving her happy Irish home. From the moment that she set foot in Gibside Hall, she became subject to the obsessive rule with which her brother governed the entire household. When her approved six months’ leave expired in December, Mary was forbidden from returning home and prevented from writing to her parents while any letters her parents sent to her were immediately intercepted by her brother.26 When Mary came of age a few days before Christmas, there had been few celebrations and little prospect of liberty. Indeed, now that Mary no longer required her parents’ consent for marriage, it soon became plain that Bowes was concocting a plan to engage her to a wealthy suitor in return for rich pickings for himself. Yet despite her youth and familial allegiance, Mary Stoney’s free spirit could not be so easily crushed.

Confined together for hours during the northern winter, effectively prisoners in the Gibside mansion, the two Marys grew close. Mary Eleanor confided in her young sister-in-law, whom she described as ‘gentle, compassionate and generous’ in complete contrast to her sadistic brother. Appalled by the stories of her brother’s abuse as well as by the indubitable evidence in the marks on Mary Eleanor’s face, Mary Stoney boldly attempted to stand up to her brother. On one occasion in 1779, when he spotted his wife leaving his sister’s bedchamber, Bowes grabbed his horsewhip and lashed Mary Eleanor on the arms and legs on the grounds that she was not permitted to leave her sister-in-law alone. Fearful that his sister might try to escape, he had ordered Mary Eleanor to watch her at all times - a prisoner guarding another prisoner. When she heard about the attack, young Mary declared that she ‘wished his hands would rot off’. She was soon to experience her brother’s violence for herself.

Preparing for an outing to the theatre in Newcastle, the two women were dressing together when Bowes stormed in, found his sister not yet ready and viciously set about her with his ever-handy whip. When Mary Eleanor shrieked at him to stop, he thrashed her too. The wheals that he caused on young Mary’s neck were so swollen and painful that the theatre excursion had to be cancelled and she spent the ensuing day in bed. Forced the following evening to get up, under the threat that Bowes would beat her again, she was made to attend the postponed theatre trip with her neck chastely muffled to hide the raw wounds. It was no isolated incident. Now that he had two victims under his command, Bowes abused both his wife and his sister mercilessly; according to Mary Eleanor her sister-in-law was ‘beaten & used by him almost as dreadfully as myself’. With no prospect of her brother’s ill-treatment relenting and no way of alerting her parents to her plight, 21-year-old Mary was desperate to return home. It would be another eighteen months before she saw her chance.

Financially, at least, circumstances were looking up. In May, Bowes’s humour improved when he found a buyer for Mary’s beloved Stanley House in Chelsea. Just as William Paterson was preparing to set off on his fourth and final expedition at the Cape, in search of fresh novelties to boost his patron’s prized collection, Bowes callously sold the villa complete with its extensive gardens, conservatories and hothouses. Writing to a friend, Bowes announced: ‘I HAVE SOLD CHELSEA HOUSE, but have not got the money; which, however, when I do, must go to—, the banker.’27 Only the conservatory and hothouse at Gibside remained, their exotic blooms and tropical fruits a tantalisingly short stroll away. Even though Bowes frequently sent the produce, including pineapples and melons, to the influential neighbours and city dignitaries he sought to cultivate, the greenhouse had begun to suffer from the neglect that he inflicted on the entire estate. Rather than ploughing his windfall into much-needed maintenance, Bowes paid off his most urgent creditors and in June sank the remainder into a racehorse.

Just like Mary’s father and her first husband, Bowes had been bitten by the eighteenth-century obsession for the Turf. Horse racing had long been enjoyed as a popular British entertainment whether on designated race courses or village greens but, as skills in selective breeding advanced, so the competing steeds became bigger, stronger and faster and interest in the sport flourished.28 Some of the most famous races, including the Epsom Derby and the St Leger at Doncaster, were run for the first time and the Jockey Club was founded to set rules and govern practices by a band of aristocratic fanatics in 1752. As the racing calendar expanded and the value of prizes soared, so meetings became magnets for all manner of side-shows including cock-fights and freak shows as well as their corollaries of ruinous betting and drinking. Naturally, Bowes could not resist the thunder of the horses’ hooves nor the attendant charms.

With the race weeks at Durham and Newcastle essential fixtures in the northern social diary, Bowes regarded the meetings as ideal opportunities to flaunt his civic benevolence to the gathered crowds. Shortly after marrying Mary, in July 1777 he had sponsored a £50 prize for one of the events at Durham races in an act of clearly calculated philanthropy.29 Now he laid out £750 to buy a six-year-old racehorse, named Icelander, so that he could compete on equal terms with the aristocratic owners of the day. Making her first appearance at Hexham races that June she did not disappoint him. ‘My mare walked over,’ he gloated to a friend, reporting her victory by half a neck over the favourite in ‘the finest race I ever saw’.30 To Bowes’s delight, Icelander went on to win major prizes that summer at Durham, Nottingham and Morpeth. Evincing more pride in his mare than he would ever bestow on his wife - and doubtless treating her with greater kindness - Bowes would hang on to Icelander until the end of her days.

Swaggering around the race courses with his rakish friends, Bowes was soon in financial strife again. As he rebuffed one of his weary creditors with a characteristically off-hand response that July, Bowes pleaded temporary poverty while asserting that, ‘At this moment, I declare, I am worth, were all effects sold, above £50,000’.31 It was little wonder that his chief legacy to posterity would be the term ‘stoney broke’.

Among the friends who shared his taste for the licentious lifestyle of the Turf was Charles Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who would later succeed as the eleventh Duke of Norfolk but was better known to his contemporaries as ‘the Jockey of Norfolk’.32 An active supporter of Fox’s Whigs, Howard championed reforms to end electoral corruption but was more than happy to dispense the boroughs in his patronage for exorbitant sums. A huge, shambling, whiskered oaf who was famed for his vulgar habits and unkempt dress, it was said that his servants waited until he was unconscious after one of his regular drinking bouts to plunge him into a bathtub. His rowdy dinners, at which he consumed quantities of beer and claret sufficient to astound even Georgian imbibers, were legendary and his notorious contempt for hygiene did nothing to deter several mistresses. His first wife having died giving birth to their stillborn child exactly nine months after their marriage, Howard had married a wealthy heiress but quickly had her certified mad and confined for life in a private asylum. Hard-drinking and hypocritical, he was, in short, a perfect companion for Bowes.

For all that Bowes could still charm his high-ranking friends and influential acquaintances on the social scene, his behaviour at home was becoming ever more irrational. One morning that same summer, Bowes sauntered into Mary’s dressing room to find her eating breakfast with her long, thick chestnut hair falling over her shoulders. After observing her coldly for a few minutes he flew into a temper then snatched up a pair of scissors yelling, Mary later recorded, that he ‘would spoil my locks, and teach me to dress my head lower than I did’ before hacking off great chunks with the shears.33 Such minute attention to Mary’s hair, her clothes and her accessories, and the recurrent accusations that she was too familiar with her male servants, suggest that Bowes had a powerful sexual obsession with Mary or at least a compulsion to control her sexually. After all, even though Bowes claimed to despise her, the couple were still sharing a bed and he was eager to father an heir.

Yet for all his slurs on her virtue, and despite the pledges Bowes had made in order to extort her confessions, Mary remained suspicious that her husband was still finding sexual pleasure outside wedlock. Three letters that she discovered by chance, all sent to Bowes from the surgeon John Hunter at some point between 1778 and 1780, confirmed her doubts.34 Carefully copying their contents before returning them to their place, Mary preserved the texts for future use. Beginning with his customary professional discretion, in the first letter Hunter refers to a ‘friend’ of Bowes for whom he has apparently been treating a woman in lodgings in Fleet Street, London. Complaining mildly that he has called on Bowes several times without success, Hunter states: ‘I am teased & therefore I tease you; I think every Man should know what is going on concerning himself. I therefore apply to you, that you may acquaint your friend how he stands with the Lady in Fleet Street. If something was done in a more frugal way it would be better for all friends.’ The second letter is more persistent, as Bowes had evidently evaded his responsibilities, as well as more revealing while maintaining the fiction of the mutual ‘friend’. Now despairing that Bowes will return to London, Hunter implores him to decide on the future of the woman in his care and - it transpires - her child. ‘My opinion is that she should go to service,’ the surgeon suggests, ‘for keeping her in the idle life, is doing her more hurt, than all that has been done.’ Remembering to send his respects to ‘Lady Strathmore and Miss Stoney’, Hunter gives the game away with his postscript: ‘The small pox was in the house, where the little thing is, should it be innoculated ?’ Reaching the end of his patience in the third and final letter, Hunter exasperatedly urges Bowes to respond. At last dispensing with the pretence of a ‘friend’, the surgeon writes: ‘I have spent all your money, of which I will give you an account of when I have the pleasure of seeing you, or sooner if you would chuse to have the account.’ Having ascertained that the woman in question would be happy to find employment - and save them both running up further bills - Hunter adds: ‘There are some Suspicions that the little thing has got the measles. Should he not be inoculated?’ Enclosed with one of the letters, Mary found a receipt for £113 ‘from Mr B’ and a bill for a further £45 15s and 4d still owing.

Providing an illuminating insight into the arrangements for illegitimate offspring, the letters clearly indicate that Hunter had delivered the baby born of Bowes’s extra-marital affair in an arrangement similar to that involving Mary just two years earlier. The ‘Lady in Fleet Street’ was obviously one ‘M. Armstrong’ from whom Mary intercepted a letter to Bowes at about the same time.35 Written in the poor grammar characteristic of Bowes’s impoverished mistresses, the letter pleads: ‘I am extremley unhappy that I have not received an answer to my Last letter, you told me that you would leave orders with Mr Hunter wether I was to come to my last place or what I was to do.’ Continuing without pause, she adds: ‘I am with out Money and Cloase and that makes me very unhappy, I hope you will be kind enuf to send me answer what I am to doo and what sittiuation you would wish to place me.’ M. Armstrong may also have been the ‘Mary (with Red Hair)’ who, George Walker would later declare, had given birth to two illegitimate children by Bowes. Whatever her identity, like all of the poor working girls Bowes would lure into relationships, she would find that the attentions of her generous lover disappeared as quickly as his money once too many inconvenient offspring appeared.

Studiously keeping his vices private, Bowes maintained the image of public virtue. The ostentatious displays of civic generosity and exotic gifts to powerful neighbours proved fruitful. Early in 1780 Bowes succeeded in getting himself elected High Sheriff of Northumberland, one of the most prestigious posts in the country, which brought with it important judicial responsibilities as well as further expenses.36 Heavily in debt, holding his sister prisoner, regularly abusing his wife and fathering illegitimate children, the new High Sheriff was expected to work with local judges and justices of the peace, organise hue-and-cry chases and attend executions as a pillar of legal rectitude. With his eye firmly on his main goal, a seat in the House of Commons, Bowes threw lavish entertainments at Gibside where Mary was required to act her wifely part. Household accounts reveal the scale of their catering with one bill for the period listing ‘Turkeys, Chickens, Butter, Cream, Salmon, Eggs, Pidgeons, Oranges, Apples and Letters [lettuce] for Mr Bowes and the Countess’ while another for 1780 records the purchase of turkeys, chickens and seventy eggs.37According to Foot, ‘his dinners were good, and his table enriched by massive plate’ and yet, the surgeon added, ‘there was always a smack of mean splendour about him, as he did not purchase one single new carriage, and his coach horses, originally of high value, were never seen in good condition’. Though he pressed his guests with fine wines and rich foods, Bowes’s meanness of spirit was apparent too, for he invariably entertained the company by making one of his subordinates the butt of his jokes. To the tenants, villagers and miners who had long enjoyed the philanthropy of the Gibside owners, Bowes was infinitely more miserly. Previously permitted to roam the Gibside woods and lawns at will, now the locals found the walks barred by notices forbidding entry.38 In truth, the splendour they had previously savoured was already tarnished, for Bowes had not only decimated the woods but had let the lawns become overgrown, the walks neglected and the Gothic architectural projects so proudly created by George Bowes to fall into disrepair. While Lady Liberty still gazed over the verdant valley, the former Eden was now tainted and sullied.

For William Paterson, back in Cape Town in early 1780 after returning from his fourth and final expedition into the south African interior, prospects had taken a severe turn for the worse. His mounting bills for provisions, lodgings, guides, oxen and other necessities having been returned from England unpaid, under Bowes’s instructions, he was now seriously in debt, unable even to buy a passage home or pay his daily expenses. Entirely dependent on the ‘protection and support’ he had trustingly expected from his benefactor he was now destitute and abandoned in a foreign land.

The humble gardener from a remote Scottish hamlet had penetrated further into the Cape interior than any British traveller, collected a treasure trove of botanic marvels and discovered several new species. Still only twenty-four, Paterson had witnessed scenes that fellow Europeans would struggle to believe. Travelling on foot or on horseback, he had crossed mountains and forded rivers, observed zebras, monkeys and elephants in their natural habitats, and made contact with the Khoikhoi and Xhosa peoples, then known as Hottentots and Caffres. While he was not, as he would claim, the first European to visit what was then termed Caffraria - modern-day Eastern Cape - for Thunberg had beaten him to that accolade, he was certainly among the most enlightened. While Thunberg had sworn that a lion would ‘much rather eat a Hottentot than a Christian’ and had claimed that the ‘Caffres’ were so greedy for iron they would murder for it, Paterson had admired the Khoikhoi dance rituals and praised the Xhosa tribe’s farming skills.39 Determinedly pursuing his mission to discover new plant life, Paterson had endured all manner of adversity, travelling for days without food or water, and surviving on ostrich eggs, the ‘rusty flesh’ of hippos and broiled termites - which he pronounced ‘far from disagreeable’. Twice he had undertaken expeditions in winter when heavy rainfall and swollen rivers made travelling treacherous, for the simple reason that: ‘I was in hopes of discovering many plants which might endure our climate, and be rendered useful.’40 In all, he had covered a greater distance - some 5,600 miles - than any of his botanical predecessors.

On his last expedition, following the coastline west and north from June to December 1779, he and Captain Gordon had become the first Europeans to locate the mouth of the Great or Orange River, the longest watercourse in southern Africa. Trekking through uninhabited desert where native guides initially refused to venture, their oxen dropping through lack of water, the pair named two hills the ‘Two Brothers’ in a gush of fraternity, although Paterson wryly noted that ‘in this desolate region there was no one who could dispute any denomination by which we chose to distinguish whatever we met with’. When at last they had arrived at the steep sandy bank of the broad delta, Paterson recorded: ‘In the evening we launched Colonel Gordon’s boat, and hoisted the Dutch colours. Colonel Gordon proposed first to drink the State’s health, and then that of the Prince of Orange, and the Company; after which we gave the river the name of the Orange River in honour of that Prince.’ Intoxicated as much by their achievements as by their toasts, Paterson never lost sight of his primary goal, rhapsodising on his return journey over ‘the most beautiful plant I ever saw of the Pentandria Monogynia class’. Wreathed with long spikes and crowned with spectacular red, yellow and green flowers, the plant towered above him. But before he had regained Cape Town, now travelling with a plantation owner, Sebastiaan van Reenen, Paterson had chanced upon an even more awesome sight: a herd of six giraffes. More commonly termed the camelopardalis or ‘spotted camel’, the giraffe had acquired almost mythical status among eighteenth-century naturalists who had heard reports of the bizarre-sounding creatures but doubted they could truly exist. Pursuing the beasts, before they could disappear into the realms of fantasy once more, van Reenen shot a male and Paterson proudly added its skeleton and skin to the cargo for his homeward journey.

Yet his discoveries and his trophies counted for nothing with his increasingly impatient creditors in Cape Town. Surrounded by his giraffe skin, crates of seeds, bulbs and plants, and some three hundred watercolours of flora and fauna, Paterson was now on the brink of being thrown into prison for his debts. Grudgingly, the garrison’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Hendrik Prehn, lent him £500 to satisfy his immediate bills so that he could stay out of jail. The scale of his debts, amounting almost to the total £583 expenses Masson had accrued during his three expeditions at the Cape, suggests that Paterson had received little or no financial support from Mary during his entire stay.41 And it was a much chastened and diminished man who greeted William Hickey when he called at the Cape on his return from India in February 1780. Hickey sadly recorded that, ‘Her Ladyship, instead of fulfilling her engagements, suffered his bills to be protested and returned, thereby exposing him to great difficulties’.42 Still penniless and stranded, Paterson was forced to borrow a further £400 from Hickey’s servant, James Adcock, to buy a passage home. Writing Adcock a promissory note, Paterson assured him there was ‘a considerable sum due to him from Lady Strathmore’, a fact Hickey confirmed while approving Paterson as ‘an honest man’. Having stowed his precious cargo of botanical treasures, Paterson sailed from the Cape on 10 March 1780 in a Dutch East Indiaman, the Held Woltemade, along with Hickey and his two creditors, Adcock and Prehn.

Arriving at Amsterdam three months later, Paterson’s troubles only intensified. First Prehn demanded repayment with interest, threatening Paterson with a Dutch prison if he could not comply, then Adcock grew nervous over losing his loan should Paterson end up in jail. A ‘greatly agitated and distressed’ Paterson turned to his old friend Hickey for help, lamenting that ‘it is as much out of my power to find money here as it was in Africa’. Remembering happier times on Table Mountain, Hickey came to the rescue, underwriting his servant’s loan and arranging for an English merchant to pay off Prehn. Once back in England, Hickey felt sure, Paterson’s patron would gladly honour her debts.

It was the end of June by the time Paterson arrived back in London to what should have been a triumphant reception. He had brought back several botanical novelties and was bearing the skin of the first giraffe ever to be seen on British shores. He should have been feted by the Royal Society and honoured by fellow naturalists. Instead it was an ignominious homecoming. His bills still unpaid by Bowes, his debt still owing to Adcock and with no income of his own, Paterson was forced to dodge his creditors and live from hand to mouth. At one point, when Adcock bumped into him by chance in the City, Paterson ‘prevaricated and shuffled’ while mumbling reassurances about his future prospects. In the meantime, Hickey agreed to pursue the money due from Mary Eleanor in order to satisfy the increasingly belligerent Adcock whose loan he had underwritten. Hickey’s father called several times at the Grosvenor Square house that summer then wrote a stinging letter to Mary attacking ‘the injustice of her behaviour towards Paterson, a young man of merit whom she had sent to a distant and savage clime to gratify her desire of collecting rare natural productions’ and whom instead of rewarding ‘she had refused to do common justice to’. Hickey’s father was now threatening to sue Mary for breach of contract, especially when his son only narrowly avoided being imprisoned for non-payment of Adcock’s loan.

Keeping his whereabouts secret, the humiliated Paterson was in no position to laud his discoveries to the illustrious Royal Society or bask in the admiration of fellow botanists. There was, therefore, no report detailing Paterson’s achievements or any mention of his travels in the society’s records that year. And while Masson’s Cape collection had been splendidly housed in a new greenhouse at Kew, Paterson’s botanical spoils were casually dispersed in ignoble obscurity. Plainly, Paterson had already sent home a quantity of his discoveries before his return, for in 1779, when the naval physician James Lind called at the Cape on his way to India, he half-heartedly collected only a few plants, ‘Masson and Paterson having sent home everything this place produces in the vegetable way’.43 Probably these specimens had been shipped to Mary, although Paterson was also in touch with Forsyth and Solander while away. Further botanical items were certainly presented to Mary, along with the giraffe skin, soon after Paterson’s return in 1780. Whether Paterson met with his erstwhile patron for this exchange is unknown; if he did, he was probably fobbed off over his money by an ever-charming Bowes.

Despite the restraints on her scientific activities, Mary did manage to send some of Paterson’s Cape seeds to her mother’s home of St Paul’s Walden Bury, where they were planted at some point in 1780, while others were despatched to Gibside for cultivation at a later date. A letter from Mary to Thomas Joplin, the Gibside gardener, in January 1781, asked him to send ‘all the Cape Seeds which were to have been sown in the spring at Gibside’ as she now planned to sow them at St Paul’s Walden Bury, because ‘all those sown there last year throve so remarkably well’.44Despite her instructions, certain seeds obviously remained at Gibside, for a second letter urged Joplin to inform her ‘if the Cape Seeds ripen, particularly the White Geranium’.

At the same time, a number of dried plants which Paterson had brought back were preserved in a unique cabinet which Mary had commissioned for the purpose.45 Crafted in burr elm and decorated with seven cameos of literary figures, in keeping with Mary’s interest in literature, the cabinet - preserved in the Bowes Museum - incorporates lead reservoirs for carrying water and a retractable shelf for examining specimens. The fragile African specimens carefully placed in its drawers in 1780 would survive until at least 1854, when Mary Bowes, Mary Eleanor’s youngest daughter, sent the cabinet complete with its plants to her nephew, John Bowes. ‘It was built by your Grandmother’s orders,’ she would explain, ‘and some of its Cape plants are still in tolerable preservation.’46

A number of the Cape exotics brought back by Paterson were duly acclaimed as newly discovered species, although fewer than might be expected given the extent of his four expeditions. The horticultural bible of the day, William Aiton’s Hortus Kewensis, would describe three:Mesembryanthemum compactum (dotted thick-leav’d Fig Marygold), Hermannia odorata (sweet-scented Hermannia), and Lobelia pubescens (downy-leaved Lobelia). All, according to Aiton, were discovered by Paterson and ‘introduced’ in 1780 ‘by the Countess of Strathmore’.47 Many more, which Paterson either described inexpertly or introduced obscurely, remained to be claimed by future botanists. Probably sold by Paterson in a desperate effort to survive from day to day, they would end up in other collections. Some found their way to James Lee, the kindly nurseryman in Hammersmith; a full fourteen years later he would report excitedly that one, the unpromisingly named giant cudweed, or Gnaphalium eximium, had flowered for the first time ‘in great perfection’. The seeds of this ‘most magnificent and shewy of all the species hitherto introduced to this country’ had been discovered, Lee noted, five hundred miles from the Cape by Paterson. It is likely that other seeds, bulbs and cuttings went to William Forsyth at the Chelsea Physic Garden, to William Aiton at Kew and to Solander and Banks. They would have included many of the geraniums, gladioli, mesembryanthemums, euphorbias and ixias that would bring their exuberant colours to English borders and window boxes from the early nineteenth century onwards.

Meanwhile, Mary donated Paterson’s magnificent giraffe skin and bones to her friend John Hunter, quite possibly at the instigation of Bowes in payment for the surgeon’s services so recently rendered.48 Whatever the motive for the gift, Hunter was ecstatic with the addition to his burgeoning anatomical collection. After examining and preserving the bones, and dissecting the ligaments of its neck in an effort to understand its stupendous stature, Hunter had the skin stuffed and placed in the hallway of his Jermyn Street house. With its legs hacked off so that it would fit the hall, the beast sat on its haunches as an unsettling welcome to patients and guests. Eventually moved to Hunter’s purpose-built museum in Leicester Square which would open to public view eight years later, it caused a sensation in the press. ‘Amongst the curiosities of Mr Hunter’s Museum is an animal brought from South America,’ reported an ill-informed London Evening Post, ‘called the Camel Depard, which, from the report of its size and other circumstances, it was hitherto much doubted by Naturalists whether such an animal did really exist or not.’

It would be many more years before Paterson would achieve the recognition that he deserved. Although on his journey home he had optimistically promised to publish an account of his travels, he was in no position to achieve this goal while living by his wits in a hostile London in 1780. He therefore had little alternative, after Britain declared war on Holland later that year, but to agree to join a British fleet bent on capturing the Cape. Recruited for his extensive knowledge of the south African coastline, most probably on the promise of a commission if he complied, Paterson would guide the British squadron in June 1781 into Saldanha Bay, about eighty miles west of Cape Town, for a surprise attack on the Dutch fleet. With his old friend Gordon, now a colonel in full command of the Cape garrison, caught unawares by the assault, the Dutch lost five merchant ships, including the Held Woltemade which had conveyed Paterson homeward the previous year. Hailed as a hero among his army comrades, Paterson’s actions were met with less generosity among the international scientific community. The French ornithologist, François le Vaillant, felt ‘tears trickle down my cheeks’ as he watched his entire natural history collection go up in smoke when one ship was blown up by its captain to protect it from British looters.49 Five years later, when Masson made his second visit to the Cape, he would be peeved to find his movements severely restricted by the Dutch government which now accused Paterson of spying.50 Yet Robert Gordon, who had every reason to feel betrayed by his former travelling companion, seemingly bore no grudge. True to his Scottish roots, he remained pro-British all his life and ultimately killed himself in 1795 after being branded a traitor for allowing British troops to take the Cape without resistance. His widow later gave Paterson three merino sheep.51

Rewarded with his commission a few months after the Cape assault, Paterson was made an ensign in the 98th Regiment and served in India for the next four years. It was only on his return to Britain as a lieutenant in 1785 that he finally began writing the long-promised account of his Cape adventures. Published as A Narrative of Four Journeys into the Country of the Hottentots and Caffraria in 1789, with seventeen exuberantly coloured plates of plants and animals, it became the first book in English to describe the Cape interior.52 Dedicated to Joseph Banks, by then president of the Royal Society, the first edition pointedly made no mention of Paterson’s original patron. Yet only a year later, the second ‘corrected’ edition included a generous tribute to the ‘protection and support’ of the ‘Honourable Lady Strathmore’. Conceivably in the interim Paterson had been reconciled to his former patron and maybe even received his long-awaited reward.

Vividly conjuring the triumphs and ordeals of his expeditions, the book went into eight editions in French and one in German. Even then Paterson would have to wait nearly another decade before gaining the acclaim he craved. Promoted to captain and newly married, he was despatched with one of the first transport ships to Sydney and served in Norfolk Island and Tasmania before ultimately being appointed lieutenant-governor of New South Wales. Tirelessly shipping specimens of native flora to his friends back home, including Hunter, Forsyth and Banks, he insisted that natural history ‘is, and ever will be, my favourite study’.53 Yet despite his repeated appeals to Banks, his less than zealous new patron, it would be 1798 before he was finally welcomed into the elite fold of the Royal Society. Having introduced several new species from Australia, which were commemorated with his name, he received the ultimate honour in 1810 when the botanist Robert Brown named an entire genus, a member of the iris family, Patersonia after his friend.54 That same year, on his way home to Britain, Paterson died at sea.

Mary Eleanor Bowes, for all her commitment and investment in botany, would never achieve such recognition. Despite having the vision to sponsor one of the most daring overseas explorations of the eighteenth century, and despite her intense study, detailed knowledge and careful nurturing of exotic plant life, Mary’s contribution as one of the most accomplished female botanists of the age would never be acknowledged. Her talents effectively nipped in the bud by Andrew Robinson Bowes, who had triumphantly sold her Stanley House gardens and greenhouses during the African journey she had sponsored, she could only seek to protect the few Cape exotics she had salvaged from his neglect. As the Gentleman’s Magazine would later record: ‘The Ladyship had begun to build extensive Hot Houses and Conservatories, brought exotics from the Cape, and was in a way of raising continually an Increase to her Collections, when by Her fatal marriage the cruel Spoiler came, and threw them, like loathsome weeds away.’55

There was little hope, of course, that William Hickey would recover his money from Bowes that summer. Skilfully dodging creditors all his life, Bowes was far too intent on his next scheme to let such a trivial claim upset his plans. Having set his heart on obtaining an Irish peerage, either for prestige among his relatives or for pecuniary advantage, he knew that the surest way to achieve his aim was by gaining a parliamentary seat. So as the canvas opened in August for the start of one of the most fiercely fought general elections of the century, Bowes was determined this time to seduce the recalcitrant electors of Newcastle.

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