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Thomas Peat fl.1791 – 1831
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Thomas Peat fl.1791 – 1831

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Portrait of an officer with his dark bay charger, here identified as Sir Thomas Hannay of the 2nd Life Guards outside Kirkdale House

 

Oil painting on canvas 28 x 36 inches and contained in a carved giltwood frame

 

Signed lower left “T. Peat” and dated “179(0 ?). It has been suggested that the final digit has been somewhat abraded and was originally  an “8”

 

Thomas Peat was a London-based portraitist (he lived at 290 Holborn, near Great Turnstile ), the majority of whose work is in miniature, both painted and enamel. He shared a house with his sister, who also painted portraits and sent them to the Royal Academy. Few bigraphical details remain about them, though a doggerel poem survives which praises:

 

In striking likenesses, those talents rare,
With the ingenious Peat few can compare;

 

Peat exhibited at the Academy until 1805 from his London houses, but seems to have been peripatetic, his work being recorded in Bath, Leamington Spa and Bristol.

 

The following is a research report prepared by Stephen Wood MA FSA about the identity of the aitter in the painting:

 

“The uniform details of the sitter positively identify him as an officer of 2nd Life Guards during the period from the creation of the regiment in 1788 to approximately 1806. The defining factors of the uniform are the black and red plume on his cocked hat and the goat-skin covers to his saddle holsters: this was a combination, together with the rest of the uniform depicted, unique to 2nd Life Guards in the 1790s. The sitter appears to be wearing an oval badge suspended from an orange ribbon below his shirt ruffle and hanging between the fifth and sixth button of his coatee: this is almost certainly the badge of a Baronet of Nova Scotia – which was of that size and shape and worn suspended around the neck from an orange, or ‘tawny’ ribbon. In the period 1788-c.1806, only one Baronet of Nova Scotia served in 2nd Life Guards: this was Sir Samuel Hannay, 4th Baronet of Mochrum and Kirkdale. It is thus very probable indeed that the sitter in this portrait is Sir Samuel Hannay, who was born on 12th August 1772. He was the eldest surviving son of Sir Samuel Hannay, Bart. MP (c.1742-90) by his wife Mary Meade (d. 1800).


The elder Samuel Hannay was descended from the Hannays of Kirkdale in Kirkcudbrightshire and made his fortune in the City of London as a chemist and druggist. With two of his brothers and in partnership with other Scots, he also invested and speculated successfully in the East India Company’s trade with India and China. Having made a fortune, Hannay spent lavishly on the appurtenances of wealth and social position: he lived at 31 Bedford Square 1783-89 before moving to Portland Place, he commissioned portraits of two of his children, Samuel and Mary, from George Romney in 1786 and 1790 and in 1786 he commissioned drawings from Robert and James Adam for a villa on Putney Heath that, in the event, was never built. In 1783, he successfully laid claim to the dormant baronetcy of Hannay of Mochrum and was created the 3rd baronet of that title. In 1784, he obtained a parliamentary seat, Camelford in Cornwall, and sat as one of the two members for that borough – the other member being one of his business partners, James Macpherson – until his death on 11th December 1790. A notable member of the ‘Bengal Squad’ in the House of Commons, Hannay voted with the government until the Regency crisis of 1788, when he went into opposition – a move for which he was much criticised and, indeed, mocked: his background as a chemist was ridiculed by his opponents, who made much of the fact that the medicine for which he was most well-known – Sir Samuel Hannay’s Original, Genuine and Only Infallible Preventative of a Certain Disease – was supposedly a protection against venereal disease. On Sir Samuel Hannay’s death, he was found to be immensely in debt, a position that may in part have resulted from his commissioning a mansion – Kirkdale House – from Robert and John Adam in 1787 but was probably also due to his reputedly heavy gambling. Although, under Scottish laws of inheritance, his widow was not left destitute – being allowed to retain one-third of his estate and its income – the remainder of his estate, including the house and contents in Portland Place, had to be sold to satisfy his numerous creditors. Thus, while the younger Samuel Hannay inherited his father’s title in 1790, becoming the 4th Baronet of Mochrum, he did not inherit anything else until he came of age on 12th August 1793.

No details have been traced of the education of Sir Samuel Hannay, believed to be the sitter in this portrait: he does not appear to have attended any English public school or any British university of the period. Given his inheritance, it may be that a military career was one of the few open to him and so, the cost of living being lower in Ireland than in Britain at that time, it is not surprising that he was first commissioned in a regiment stationed in Ireland. He became ensign in 38th Regiment of Foot on 30th July 1791 but exchanged to another Ireland-based regiment, 5th Dragoon Guards, later the same year – becoming a cornet in that regiment on 31st October 1791. He clearly did not spend all his time in Ireland since he is recorded as attending the Prince of Wales’s levée at Carlton House on 27th February 1792: perhaps the prince remembered the tacit support given him by the young officer’s father at the time of the Regency crisis four years earlier. On 31st March 1793, Hannay was promoted lieutenant in 5th Dragoon Guards and remained in the regiment until the last day of 1796, when he exchanged with a lieutenant in 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot. It is unlikely that this exchange resulted in Hannay joining his new regiment, which was serving in the West Indies at the time, but it probably brought him back to Britain where, now that he had inherited his estate, he would have been able to preside over the sale of the most of the remaining lands, buildings and farms at Kirkdale which took place in January 1797.

The income resulting from the sale of the Kirkdale estate may have enabled Sir Samuel to increase his social status within the army since, on 24th August 1797, he sold his lieutenancy in the unfashionable 61st Foot and bought the rank of cornet and sub-lieutenant in 2nd Life Guards, a regiment of which his fellow-Scot, Lord Cathcart, had recently become colonel. On 17th January 1799, he purchased promotion to lieutenant and adjutant and acquired command of a troop, in the rank of captain and without purchase, on 3rd June 1801. During the short-lived ‘Peace of Amiens’, on 25th March 1802, Hannay exchanged from 2nd Life Guards into the relatively newly raised Queen’s German Regiment but, probably sometime in the following six months, went to Altona, near Hamburg, to fight a duel. As The Times reported, on 11th September 1802,

‘On Wednesday morning, Capt. MURRAY arrived in town from Hamburgh, accompanied by Major BLAIR and Colonel CALLAND. Capt. MURRAY went over to the Continent for the purpose of fighting Sir SAMUEL HANNAY, in consequence of some blows which passed some time ago at Steevens’s, in Bond-street.
The meeting took place at Altona. The parties fired a case of pistols each. Capt. MURRAY’s last shot was fired in the air, and put an end to the dispute. Sir SAMUEL HANNAY is not yet returned. It is said that he quits Lord CATHCART’s Regiment in consequence of this unfortunate affray.’

Since the date of the duel is not known, it is not possible to substantiate the suggestion that Hannay had to leave 2nd Life Guards as a result of it. Given the discrepancy in dates between The Times report and Hannay’s transfer out of 2nd Life Guards, as well as the fact that The Times incorrectly reported the ranks of Blair and Calland – who were both regimental captains, although Calland was a brevet major – it is conceivable that the gossip, as reported, was inaccurate. Since his antagonist, Captain The Hon. George Murray, and both of his supporters, were all officers in 2nd Life Guards at the time, the reason for the blows exchanged at Stevens’s Hotel in Bond Street may have been a regimental matter or, since all those named by The Times were Scots, some question of ancestry or birth.

It seems probable that Hannay remained on the European continent for some time after the duel since he appears to have been there when war with France resumed on 15th May 1803. He is recorded, together with his sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Thomas Rainsford, as being a prisoner-of-war in France after 1803. Given Napoleon’s reluctance to allow British prisoners-of-war to be exchanged, it is possible that Hannay – and the Rainsfords – remained as prisoners in France until 1814.viii Certainly, Hannay retired from the Army by sale of his captain’s commission in Queen’s German Regiment on 18th October 1803: this was an act that would have released some funds needed to make his imprisonment less unpleasant.

Little more is known after 1803 of Sir Samuel Hannay. In the 1830s he is said to have been ‘in the service of the Emperor of Austria’ with ‘an official post at Vienna’ but no further details are available from printed British sources.x He died of tuberculosis (‘Lungensucht’) in Vienna on 1st December 1841, as the Wiener Zeitung announced,

‘Verstorbene zu Wien. … Den 1. December. Der hochwohlgeborne Sir Baronet Samuel Hannay of Mochrum, königl. Grossbritannischer Ober Lieutenant, alt 69 J., in der Plankengasse Nr. 1064, an der Lungensucht.’


Death notices subsequently appeared in the Annual Register and Gentleman’s Magazine.xi Although he neither married nor left legitimate offspring, he may not have spent his declining years alone since, in 1839, he settled his estate upon the dowager Baroness Schaffalitsky with remainder to his elder sister Mary Hastings Hannay – who had been painted by Romney in 1790xii. The baroness dying soon after Hannay, the estate was then inherited by Mary, who died in 1850 and left it to her nephew, William Henry Rainsford Hannay.

Given that the sitter in this portrait is most probably Sir Samuel Hannay, 4th Baronet of Mochrum and Kirkdale, the house depicted in the background is most probably intended to represent Kirkdale House, designed by Robert and James Adam in 1787 and built between 1787 and 1789. It is not a scrupulously accurate representation of the house, which may not have been visited by the artist in any case, but its position adjacent to a body of water replicates the position of Kirkdale House close by the shore of Wigtown Bay. The artist may have worked on his depiction either from a sketch by Sir Samuel Hannay, who commissioned the house from the Adams, or from one of a series of plans for different versions of the house that the Adams produced for the third baronet around 1786-87, or from a sketch provided by the fourth baronet, the probable sitter in the portrait.

Since the date ‘1790’ cannot refer to the sitter in that year – since he did not join the Army until 1791 or wear the uniform shown before 1797 – it may be a retrospective use of the date indicating when the sitter inherited his title and became heir presumptive to the house and lands depicted in the background. The small gold key depicted on his shirt ruffle may be one of two things: a contemporary reference to his position as a military member of the British Royal Household – as an officer of 2nd Life Guards 1797-1802, or a later addition perhaps reflecting the position that he is said to have held – perhaps that of a Gentleman of the Bedchamber – at the Imperial Court in Vienna. “

Literature:

 

Bulloch. J.M., ‘British Prisoners of War in France’, Notes & Queries, Vols. 175 & 176 (1938 & 1939), pp. 77 & 194 and passim.

Burke, J., A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire, (London, 1841), p. 484.

Byrne, A., Bedford Square: an architectural study, (London, 1990), p. 149.

Christie, I.R., British ‘non-élite’ MPs 1715-1820, (Oxford, 1995), p. 70.

Clarke, T.H., The rhinoceros from Dürer to Stubbs, 1515-1799, (London, 1986), pp. 74-75, pl. 46 and note, p. 195.

Gifford, J., Dumfries & Galloway: the Buildings of Scotland series, (London, 1996), p. 381.

Jocelyn, A., Awards of Honour, (London, 1956), p. 52.

Lawson, C.C.P., A History of the Uniforms of the British Army, (London, 1966), Vol. IV, pp. 54-55.

Namier, L. & Brooke, J., The House of Commons 1754-1790, (London, 1985), Vol. II (Members A-J), p. 579.

Philips, C.H., ‘The East India Company Interest and the English Government 1783-84’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, Vol. XX (1937), pp. 83-102, p. 98.

Rowan, A., Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert & James Adam, (London, 1985) pp. 58-64 & pls. 18-21.

Thorne, R.G., The House of Commons 1790-1820, (London, 1986), Vol. IV (Members G-P), p. 147.

Ward, T.H. & Roberts, Romney: a biographical and critical essay with a catalogue raisonné of his works, (London, 1904), Vol. II, p. 70.

 

 


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