The rebel and the conman (part 2)

Frederick Hawkes Nottage

In the first ‘guest post,’ I looked at George Nottage, whose one-man protest over a new bylaw caused a stir in Ipswich in 1839.

I mentioned how, in 1814, he married Emma Hawkes – daughter of Thomas and Lydia Hawkes of Berden Hall, Essex – a grand country house. The Hawkes family were both wealthy and had a ‘good name’. 

This was to prove key to the (mis)fortunes of George and Emma’s eldest son, Frederick Hawkes Nottage.

Berden Hall

Berden Hall belonged to Thomas Hawkes, who died about 1800. His widow Lydia died in 1821, by which time all bar two of their children had died: Emma, now Emma Nottage, and; Mary Elizabeth, now the wife of Isaac Hodges.

And it was Isaac and Mary Elizabeth Hodges who got Berden Hall. At no point did Frederick Hawkes Nottage have any claim on the place. He may have been hoping to come into some money when his aunt Mary Elizabeth died, but that could have been decades off.

Author and would-be politician

Frederick Hawkes Nottage was born in 1816. At just 18 years old, he was looking for a career in politics, giving a speech at a dinner promising to be ‘a free, independent and unshackled British legislator’ if ever elected.

By 1835, he was described as (or describing himself as!):

Editor of an old leading Journal… author of several political pamphlets, and other anonymous writings of note and merit. 

Readers were promised:

…from his talented pen “Love and Marriage’ a novel in four volumes, price 2 guineas.

The first con

In January 1836, a local paper reported:

..a Noble Peer has this day appointed Frederick Hawkes Nottage, Esq., his lordship’s Private Secretary. 

I suspect this was a fiction. Also in January 1836, it was reported that Fred, 

 ‘late a candidate for the borough of St Alban’s and now a gentleman of the press was summonsed for a bill he owed a Mr Postan, of £7, for printed election papers. 

Fred had told Mr Postan his resources included an annuity of £300 a year for services to Lord Carrington and that he earned £5 a week writing for the Essex and Herts Mercury.

The second con

In April 1836, an announcement was published – note, there is no location given:

MARRIED. On the 2d Inst., Frederick Hawkes Nottage, Esq. of Berden Hall and Park, Durham, to Miss Emily Adeliza Beresford, of Belton-house.

First point: Fred was claiming to be ‘of Berden Hall’.

Secondly, Belton House belonged to John Brownlow Cust. Emily Adeliza Beresford appears to be another work of fiction.

Thirdly, if she wasn’t, the marriage would possibly have been bigamous! For in March 1835, Fred had married a Henrietta Humphreys, then a few weeks pregnant. Their son, named after his father, only lived three weeks. There is no sign of Henrietta in Fred’s life after.

The third con?

Around now, someone purporting to be him wrote two letters to the press, saying he was a man of ancient family and large fortune, and had ‘two princely domains’ by marriage with ‘an extremely wealthy heiress’, that property worth £18k a year depended on his obtaining a seat in Parliament within three years, and that £2,000 should be forfeited to ‘anyone who can make the money more or less’. 

The Essex Herald deemed the letters to be hoaxes. But it seems possible they weren’t.

The fourth con

In May 1836, it was reported that:

We have full authority for stating that Frederick Hawkes Nottage, Esq., of Berden Hall, is a candidate for the (County Mayo) seat in Parliament…

However, not long after that he ‘graciously and patriotically retired from the field’ (of candidates).

He soon had his eye on a seat in Southwark, extolling the virtues and reputation of his ‘maternal house of Hawkes’.

That reputation was about to be trashed! 

For at the end of May, Frederick Hawkes Nottage was up in court:

attired in a dingy white or drab hat, a coarse Brighton beaver coat, and otherwise partaking strongly of what is called the shabby genteel’

The charge was that he’d stolen a suit of clothes from a Mrs Bennet while lodging with her. To this charge was subsequently added two of forgery, for getting cheques cashed in the name of Hawkes Nottage Calvert.

He’d told Mrs Bennet he’d been left a large sum by his mother but couldn’t take it till he became an MP.

And he seemed quite unabashed in court, telling them his maternal relations were of the highest respectability and he was ‘a lineal descendent of Thomas Hawkes the first martyr’.

Transported ‘for life’

The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to be transported for life. A convict hulks record says ‘penitentiary’ in the margin. How long he spent there isn’t recorded. But on the 1841 census, he is neither in Australia or prison – being listed in lodgings in London, ‘of independent means’. Neither Henrietta nor ‘Emily the wealthy heiress’ is with him!

The fifth con

In 1842, Frederick Hawkes Nottage hit on another way to get cash – he pawned 56 library books! And, it turned out, items belonging to fellow lodgers. 

Now living in Anderson’s Buildings, City Road, he owed a former landlady a lot of rent as well.

His defence was that 1) he intended to redeem the books, and 2) this wasn’t theft – a matter for the courts – but ‘a matter of business’. The court did not agree!

Letters to royals

So how did Fred hope to get the money to redeem the books from the pawnbroker? Well, he was ‘about to publish’ one of his own, called An Address to Youth. And he had been VERY busy, writing to people who did have money, asking them to be (paid) subscribers to his book.

He said he’d written about 200 such letters (and had £20 for his defence as a result).

It transpired that Queen Victoria had declined to subscribe to or receive his book. Prince Albert had agreed to subscribe, but the book would be paid for on delivery. 

The items he had pawned included a gold chain which he had borrowed (‘for one day’) to wear ‘to the palace’, to seek Prince Albert’s patronage.

Fred was given back his manuscript and ‘about 300 letters’. 

Among them was:

one from the Duke of Argyll’s secretary, complaining of an impertinent letter he’d sent the Duchess.

Why the Billy Bunter illustration?

One of the 1842 reports describes him as:

‘a very tall and slender person, of swarthy complexion, with long black hair’.

Nothing like the ‘fat owl’ of fiction, but there is something Bunter-esque about him:

  • Fred tried to ‘tap’ everyone up to and including the Queen for cash. Always on the promise that he’d be able to pay them back soon
  • He was always about to inherit a fortune, or make one by publishing a book, or earn one by becoming an MP
  • He bigged up his background and position – using his mother’s family name and address 
  • He had no qualms about ‘borrowing’ other people’s property. And was indignant that this was viewed as theft
  • Above all, he doesn’t come across as a callous crook, but more as someone convinced of his own self-worth, who fully believes he will ‘make good’ one day soon.

Transported ’again’

For the second time, the sentence was ‘transported for life’. But he was to get no further than Gosport. Records show him on a prison hulk there, and his death, in the last quarter of 1847, was registered locally.

Frederick Hawkes Nottage was then just 31 years old.


One thought on “The rebel and the conman (part 2)

Comments are closed.