See the bigger picture

Mr Jones, Mr Birch, and George Boulton Esq in the Stothard portrait are just images in a picture because, without much more information, they are impossible to trace. Fortunately for informaphiles there is plenty about the others!

Mr Asperne is James Asperne 1757-1820, bookseller and proprietor of the European Magazine, a monthly magazine published from 1782 until 1826. He was also Past Master of the Foundation Lodge and St Peter’s Lodge and Grand Steward for 1814. His image in the Stothard is little more than a coloured blob if we zoom in so, fortunately, there is a much better portrait by Samuel Drummond in the Library of Freemasonry.

James Asperne by Samuel Drummond

Another in the print trade was Mr Whittle as it seems very likely that he is the Whittle of Laurie & Whittle. Laurie, a skilled artist, had been apprenticed to Robert Sayer and took over from him in 1794. James Whittle had also been an apprentice but in the Needlemakers’ Company and he joined with Laurie producing maps, charts and prints from the Golden Buck in Fleet Street. They and their families lived on the premises.

‘The foundation of their business was the existing Sayer stock of printing plates, both for maps and atlases and also decorative prints, but they continued to add new material to freshen up the atlases, as well as separately-published maps on topical issues, notably events during the Napoleonic Wars.’

After his partner retired, and until his death in 1818, Whittle continued the business with Laurie’s son. ‘Ultimately the business formed part of the famous nautical chart firm of Imray, Laurie, Norie &Wilson.’


No portrait of James Whittle has been found and, like Mr Asperne, he is just a blob in the Stothard so it makes us no wiser about his appearance.


Standing next to him, is Dr de Valangin and, in a neat connection, the image below was published by James Asperne! The legend states “Engraved from an Original Painting by Abbott. Dr. De Valangin.” and “Published by J. Asperne, at the Bible, Crown & Constitution, Cornhill, Sept.r. 1st 1805.”

image from via Creative Commons

Dr Franciscus Josephus Pahud de Valangin was born in 1719 in Berne, Switzerland and studied medicine at Leiden. In 1768 (the same year that Ruspini also published a treatise) he published a Treatise on Diet. From his practice in Fore St, Cripplegate he dispensed not only his own medicines but also Ruspini’s haemostatic styptic, given to the poor free of charge in tins stamped with his coat of arms. Medical care at that time being costly, de Valangin was unusual for charging people according to what he thought they could pay.

‘To those in the humbler walks of life, it was his constant custom to regulate the acceptance of his fees by their presumed ability to afford them: and the poor were always welcome to his gratuitous assistance.’ (European Magazine 1805)

De Valangin leased land at White Conduit Fields, Pentonville and had a house constructed to his own design. He called it Hermes Hill House derived from Hermes Trismegistus deemed author of Hermetic Corpus. (No, I had no idea either – and I’m not much wiser having looked it up.)

‘His house was remarkable for a singular brick tower or observatory, which was taken down by the next tenant.’

From his first marriage, he had two sons and a daughter. Sadly, the daughter died when she was nine years old and she was buried in the garden of Hermes Hill House. Fortunately for the next occupant, her body was later transferred to Cripplegate church. De Valangin married for a second time in 1782, the widow of the architect who built his house.

De Valangin was certainly involved in the early days of the School. The first attempt to find some premises, in Little Chelsea, failed quite a long way into the negotiations because the Duchess of Cumberland decided they (and the owner) were not suitable. In a very short space of time, they had to find other premises and it was de Valangin who found the Somers Place East site. He also gave his services as a physician free of charge to the School.

Curiously, his death, like that of Thomas Stothard, involved a carriage accident. The European Magazine – see, they’re all connected – reports that on 2nd January 1805, de Valangin slipped and fell whilst alighting from his carriage, the ground being frosty. He sustained an injury which he himself predicted would shorten his life and so it proved. On 1st March 1805 he died and was interred in the family vault in Cripplegate church, the same vault to which his daughter’s body had been removed the day before.

His obituary says of him that he was ‘a friend to mankind and an honour to his profession.’

Now, Sir John Eamer, on the other hand, is described less flatteringly as ‘a remarkable and controversial man’ written by Adrian Barlow, 2015. He was a friend of the Prince Regent although Stothard portrays him standing behind the prince’s brother on the opposite side of the hall. In 1794 he became Sherriff of London and was knighted by George III. He was elected to the position of Lord Mayor of London in 1801 so perhaps Stothard mistakenly attributed his later position to the listing rather than giving him as Sherriff.

Sir John by Stothard and also by Brown

On completing his term of office Sir John became Colonel of the East London militia, ‘with responsibility for safeguarding the London docks from possible French attack after the collapse of the short-lived Treaty of Amiens in 1802.’

His costume, as depicted by Stothard, is vaguely uniform-like but it is difficult to be sure. The other portrait, commissioned by himself when he became Lord Mayor is definitely uniformed. The portrait, by Mather Brown, is ‘a stunning piece of myth making’. As Barlow indicates:

… he stands, flushed and supremely confident in scarlet uniform, his right elbow resting on the muzzle of a tall canon. Immediately behind him, his massive horse is draped in a cheetah-skin saddlecloth. Above and behind the horse loom the arms of the City of London, supported as heraldry demands by a griffin. Below, in a distant view barely glimpsed between the horse’s legs, soldiers can be seen drilling on a parade ground with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. The implicit title of this picture is all too clearly ‘Sir John Eamer, Heroic Defender of the City of London’.

But lest we should think that, Malvolio-like, Sir John from humble beginnings had greatness thrust upon him, it would appear he got to where he was by using his wealth to buy influence and it was wealth, moreover, which came from the West Indian sugar trade and, by implication, the use of slaves.

In 1805, he was court-martialled for ‘Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman’. Junior officers complained that he was bullying and abusive although, in his own defence, at a time when there was a threat of invasion and strict military discipline was necessary, Sir John found this in very short measure among the officers of the East London Militia and said some had stubbornly refused to turn out on parade.

“I was prepared to expect much discontent and strong opposition; but I was not prepared to expect that the ruin of my character, the destruction of my peace, and the blasting of my fair fame were to be the price of my duty so discharged.” (Colonel Sir John Eamer’s Defence on the court martial held on charges preferred against him by Captain William Ayres, &c. &c. as cited by Barlow)

Sir John was cleared of all charges although advised to temper what he said and how he said it. (‘Language, Timothy!’) However, just a year later he was ‘up before the Beak’ again for intemperate behaviour following a road accident in which his carriage, apparently on the wrong side of the road, had side-swiped another vehicle. Sir John, far from admitting any liability, ‘immediately began to exercise his horsewhip most actively upon the head and shoulders of the plaintiff’s servant.’ To make matters worse when the owner of the vehicle appeared, Sir John laid into him as well! This time, the court found against him and he was obliged to pay damages.

Did this sober his behaviour? Well no, because in 1810, after refusing to account for some £8000 granted for equipping the Militia, Sir John was court-martialled again for

behaving in a scandalous infamous manner, such as unbecoming the character of an Officer and a Gentleman towards one of his subordinate officers … Sir John [was] acquitted on all charges but reprimanded, again, for his use of ‘unguarded expressions’.

His reputation, however, was damaged and a few years later he withdrew from the City and retired to Brighton. He died there on 29th March 1823, and his death merited only a brief note in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘On a warm treacherous sun-shining day, he imprudently ventured to sit on the beach, which sapped the foundation of a frame already bending under the weight of age and infirmity’. [Definitely overtones of ‘Well if you will go out without your vest on …]

As Sir John was clearly a colourful character. It seems almost a shame that he is wearing sombre colours in the Stothard portrait.

Every picture tells a story

The Stothard portrait related to the School, discussed previously, is very much the case of every picture telling a story. (If you don’t know what is being referred to here, you need to go to . Or throw a six.)

Alongside the portrait, there is an outline image identifying the people shown in the portrait with a legend giving their names. The first cartouche identifies 12 of those shown and, of these, two need no further elucidation. The Prince of Wales here is what we know as the Prince Regent, later George IV, often referred to as Prinny (behind his back) and shown in this portrait rather flatteringly in a slimline version. The other is Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini, the Institutor of the School.

Standing next to the Prince of Wales and therefore, presumably, regarded as very important, is James Heseltine, Esq. In January 1766, in an item actually written about someone else, Heseltine is described as ‘an active and influential young Freemason’.

The image has Heseltine standing behind William Forsteen, with James Galloway to his left.

Heseltine is positioned prominently in the portrait. By this stage, he was the King’s proctor or solicitor representing the Crown. [The name is a shortened form of procurator].The office was combined with that of the Treasury Solicitor and it was not only a position of influence but an extremely lucrative one. The Monthly Magazine: Volume 17 1804 in reporting his death at his home in Bedford Square said:

He had been appointed a Grand Warden in 1785 and Grand Treasurer in 1795. His will of 1804 certainly left a substantial sum for the time although nothing like the 200,000l described in The Monthly Magazine.

Standing immediately before Heseltine is William Forsteen Esq although his name is spelled variously as Forstein, Forsteen and Forssteen in references. He was one of the nine freemasons who initiated the School in 1788.

‘To the benevolent and indefatigable exertion of William Forsteen, Anthony Ten Broeke, Adam Gordon, Henry Spicer, esqs. and a few other respectable brethren, the Society are principally indebted for the complete establishment if this truly laudable Institution; and such have been the care and pains bestowed on the education of the children, that the sum arising from their work for the last year has exceeded £200.’

William Forsteen was born in 1754 in Camberwell and died at his home in Hans Place, Chelsea in 1832. Hans Place, named for Sir Hans Sloane, was built in the 1770s. The octagonal shape of the square is thought to have been modelled on the Place Vendôme in Paris. Jane Austen was once a resident of Hans Place.

Google maps

The map shows that it is very handy for Harrods. Pity that did not exist then.

Hans Place, photo from

In 1810 a Captain William Forssteen was promoted to major in the 2nd Royal Regiment and in 1816, Forsteen is given as a subscriber to another Charity School in Grays Inn Rd and his residence is given as Lime Street Square. These very fleeting references are amongst the few found and may not be the Forsteen in the portrait. That he was strongly connected to the Girls’ School we do know but he is one in history who ticked the ‘no publicity’ box.

Of James Galloway, there is even less. Shades of Shelley’s Ozymandias here because, although clearly of some significance judging by his proximity to the Prince Regent, and that he, like Heseltine, was an influential young Freemason, little can be found about him.

Fortunately, the next three names are well-covered!


Ussuf Aqiah Efendi is actually Yusuf Agah Efendi and he was the Ambassador from the Sublime Porte, a term used for the Ottoman Empire.

‘The name has its origins in the old Oriental practice in which the ruler announced his official decisions and judgements at the gate of his palace’ (Wikipedia) in Constantinople, now Istanbul. The gate was known as the ‘High Gate’ or ‘Sublime Porte’.

Yusuf Agah Efendi was born in Crete and had been a Scribe of the Navy before becoming Ambassador at the first permanent embassy of the Ottoman State in England. The delegation, which included the interpreter and the secretary, left Istanbul in 1793 and arrived via Ostend to a military band welcome in Dover.

‘In a letter he wrote to Foreign Minister Lord Grenville, General Smith, who was among the group that greeted the delegation, described Yusuf Agah Efendi as a “charming and respectable old man,” sırkatibi (literally, the secret scribe) Mahmud Raif Efendi as “young and reasonable,” and chief translator Emanuel Persiani as “intelligent and skillful.”’

Two more names listed possibly had more prominence at the time but have disappeared without trace into the history books: Mr Cotton and John Hull Esq. Shown in the portrait as engaged in conversation with Sir William Addington, these two gentlemen are very hard to trace.

Mr Cotton may be Sir Charles Cotton – the dates are about right but we have to consider that MR Cotton is probably an unlikely epithet for someone with a title. However, he did succeed to his title in 1795 so it is possible that his name was written before he took his title. He was an officer in the Navy where he would have been referred to as Mr Cotton and he is given as ‘Mr Cotton’ in parliamentary papers. In 1793, two weeks after the French Revolutionary Wars broke out, Cotton was recalled to service in HMS Majestic and joined the Channel Fleet so, if this is him, he probably wasn’t really there anyway as he would have been at sea.

An alternative is Henry Cotton, Esq in the Lodge of Nine Muses along with many of the other names in the portrait, including Ruspini, but he is even harder to trace so we will never be sure.

Alongside Henry Cotton in the Lodge of Nine Muses is John Hull esq, but if there was little about Mr Cotton, there is zilch about John Hull. We must leave them in conversation with each other and hope that one day, they tell us who they are.

Fortunately the 3rd member of the trio, Sir William Addington (1728–1811) is known. He was a magistrate at Bow Street from 1774, later becoming Chief Magistrate. Whilst he was not uncontroversial – having had two complaints made against him as a magistrate and notoriously taking Jane Lessingham, the actress, as a mistress – he did win praise for his part in dealing with the Gordon Riots. Any wanting to know more about the Bow Street runners and the Gordon Riots can turn to John Creasey’s 1972 novel The Masters of Bow Street.

In 1799 Sir William introduced badges intended to distinguish between officers and patrolmen. (Information from

Image of No 4 Court in Bow Street from and image of two Runners from Pinterest

Standing opposite the Prince Regent is his brother, the Duke of York, wearing military uniform. He was appointed colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards (now 2nd Life Guards) on 26 March 1782 and, had he not died in 1827, Britain might have had its first King Frederick as he was heir presumptive to his brother following the death of Charlotte, the only legitimate heir.

Rather like the image of his brother, the Duke is portrayed more slim than he actually was: (left) the Stothard portrait; (centre) in 1790 (i.e. before the Stothard image) and (right) in 1822. And yes, he is the Grand Old Duke of York of the nursery rhyme! In 1793, the Duke was put in charge of a military expedition with a mixture of British and Hanoverian forces but they were hugely outnumbered. ‘Over the following months, he marched his army back and forth between ineffective minor actions, inspiring the nursery rhyme. ‘

So this exposition of the portrait is bracketed with royalty but there are still some very interesting characters to come!

A picture paints a thousand words?

Many people familiar with the School will also be familiar with the picture of Chevalier Ruspini leading the girls before the assembled Freemasons headed by the Prince Regent.

This portrait was painted by Thomas Stothard, RA in – well no-one is entirely sure when. If one attempts to count the number of girls, it might be anything from 20 to 26, or more. Fifteen little girls started at the School when it first began with five more being added to the School roll the following year and five more the year after and … After about five years of the School’s existence, some of the girls would have been ready to leave so the numbers did not rise without end. A rough calculation of the number of pupils shown here might suggest a date of c.1793. However – and this is key – this is not a photograph, it is a painting. As such, a degree of artistic licence is permitted. If Thomas Stothard wanted to show a line of children stretching into the distance to represent the permanence of the Institution, he was at liberty to do so. Indeed, he may have even been instructed to do so by whoever commissioned it, presumably the School authorities or the gentlemen of the committee or even Ruspini himself. Because that’s another thing we don’t know about the picture – who paid for it.

Thomas Stothard was a Royal Academician born in 1755, ‘the son of a well-to-do innkeeper in Long Acre.’ As a young man, he demonstrated a talent for drawing and was apprenticed to a draughtsman of patterns for brocaded silks in Spitalfields. After his master died, Stothard decided to concentrate on art and became a student at the Academy in 1778. Much of his work held there shows his drawing skill. It includes many nude studies, which are exquisitely executed, and also this study of a child’s limbs:

Stothard, Thomas; Sketches of a child’s arms;
Credit line: (c) Royal Academy of Arts

If we take a closer look at one of the girls, we can see something similar.

The two children holding the hands of Ruspini seem to be very young, perhaps too young. Although British Freemasonry, 1717–1813, Volume 5 by Robert Peter gives that pupils ‘must be between the age of five and nine years’, between 7 or 8 was generally the age at which they were admitted. Perhaps another example of artistic licence?

Stothard was elected RA on 10 February 1794 but his association with the Royal Academy continued after this as he was appointed Deputy Librarian, and then Librarian, from 1810 until his death in 1834. He married Rebecca Watkins in 1783 and they had eleven children, but only six survived infancy. Their home was Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. In 1763 three of the inhabitants of Henrietta St were artists but ‘several others were resident in the street during the eighteenth century … from 1747 to 1758. There were still as many as five artists and engravers with addresses in Henrietta Street as late as 1816’

In 1794, the Stothards moved to 28 Newman Street, Fitzrovia. As Stothard owned this property – or the freehold at any rate – he was doing very nicely thank you.


28 Newman St, now occupied by a film company, has a ‘blue plaque’ commemorating Stothard’s residency – only it’s not blue but made of lead to blend with the facade of the building.

Image adapted from

Two of his sons entered the art world: Charles Alfred Stothard became an illustrator and Alfred Joseph Stothard was a medallist to George IV. Charles died tragically after falling out of a window whilst executing a drawing. His wife Anna Bray (later re-married) wrote a biography of her former father in law.

Towards the end of his life, Stothard grew increasingly weak and deaf but still took long walks. Unfortunately, during one of these, he was knocked down by a carriage. He appeared to sustain no physical injury but he never recovered from the shock and died on 27 April 1834. He is buried in Bunhill Fields burial ground as is his former friend William Blake, although the two men fell out later in life over the commissioning of a painting of the pilgrims to Canterbury.

So that’s the artist but the picture itself is worth a much closer look. Along with the portrait, there is also an outline drawing which identifies many of the people in the image. Perhaps this was created by Stothard himself as part of his preparation.

And because we can identify the people depicted, it tells a much greater story. We need to gloss over here the fact that not one female is named, not even the two little girls right in the centre and the focus of our immediate attention when we first look at the picture …

Having the identity of 37 of the men shown enables us to pin down the date more accurately. Or at least as accurately as anything designed by an artist in the days long before photographs. It is possible that this specific event took place on one specific occasion and that Thomas Stothard was commissioned to paint it but it may also be an amalgam of several occasions with a bit of imagination thrown in for good measure. The pupils were brought before assembled Freemasons but this happened every year, possibly from 1789 onwards and continued until the latter end of the nineteenth century so it does not help with the dating. However one of the people shown, the Ambassador from the Sublime Porte, was only in London between 1794 and 1797 so if it were one specific event, it has to be between those dates. Another person who is date-specific is the Stadtholder who was exiled to Britain in 1795 so that fits quite nicely with the Ambassador’s presence in Britain. Unfortunately, this is almost immediately countered by the identification of George Downing esq. who is described as ‘late’ in the attribution. He died in 1800 which then puts the portrait back to after this date.

Another anomaly – which could easily be a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Stothard – is the naming of a Mr Haydon in the picture. This could be Benjamin Robert Haydon (26 January 1786 – 22 June 1846), a British painter who specialised in grand historical pictures. However, if it is he, we have another problem with dates as he does not appear in London until 1804.

Sir John Eamer is identified as the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London in the portrait and he was Lord Mayor from 1801. Indeed, during his mayoralty, ‘on Easter Monday, April 19, 1802, the Prince of Wales, with his brothers the Dukes of Clarence and Cumberland, accompanied by a train of nobility and gentry, honoured the dinner and ball with their presence.’ [a ticket to Mansion House Ball]. Is it possible that this specific event has been metamorphosed with the parading of the girls before their supporters to create the Stothard portrait?

Four others named – Dr de Valangin, James Heseltine, Mr Cuppage and Mr John Jeffryes – died respectively 1805 (de Valangin) and 1804 (Heseltine, Cuppage & Jeffryes) which gives a cut off date if it is an image of a single event. One curious presence is that of a Cherokee Indian Chief John Bowles – although there is no certain evidence that he was ever in Britain at all. He became the Chief in 1792 so the portrait should come after this period.

But just when you thought it was safe, Adam Gordon esq., according to researcher ‘Emma’,

is in fact the fifth son of the twelfth laird of Abergeldie, Charles Gordon. Adam Gordon was born around 1757/1758 and died on the 28th May 1800 in Bath and is buried in Bath Abbey.

So this would place the date of the portrait (or the event thereto) to before 1800. Before which time, George Downing was not ‘late’!

Adam Gordon of Lime Street is listed as the treasurer of the school in the Freemasons’ Calendar for 1796 and again in a newspaper advert in 1798. He left £100 to the school in his will so would be a good candidate for inclusion in a commissioned portrait.

‘An interesting man, [Gordon] was in New York acting as a banking agent during the American War of Independence (and was accused of trying to fix exchange rates) before returning to London and setting up a successful engineering, shipbuilding and ironworks with his brother David Gordon (14th laird of Abergeldie) and his brother-in-law John Biddulph. Their company was originally based in Lime Street, London and the two brothers later built a house in Dulwich (Dulwich Hill House). ‘ (Emma, researcher)

The conclusion appears to be that the event shown in the Stothard portrait – described recently and understandably, if incorrectly, as the opening of the School – is actually NOT a single event but a representative image of occasions in School and Masonic history; a combination of a number of similar events given some artistic licence by the painter and dating to somewhere around 1800 give or take a few years here and there and a few people who might not have been there but then again might have.

What a pity that in all this no-one knows the names of the girls!