John Thomas Batt, executorship diary from May 18, 1771 to October 3, 1771 regarding George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax
Place Published: [London]
Publisher: John Thomas Batt
Date Published: 1771
Edition: 1st Edition
A small 3-3/4 x 5-7/8 inches [30pp.] manuscript notebook devoted to J.T. Batt's executorship of the 2nd Earl Halifax dated 1771. (covering from May 18, 1771 - October 3 1771). Notebook supplied by 'Robert Thatcher Stationer, on Dukes Court, near St Martin's Court, London. Sells all Sorts of Stationary, Bibles, Common Prayers &c at the Lowest Prices' (label on front pastedown). Limp roan, paper-backed covers; unlined paper (vertical chainlines) interleaved with purple blotting paper.
George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, KG, PC was a British statesman of the Georgian era. Due to his success in extending American commerce he became known as "father of the colonies". President of the Board of Trade 1748–61, he aided the foundation of Nova Scotia, 1749, the capital Halifax being named after him.
This a manuscript account of the death and its aftermath of George MontaguDunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax. This account is written in the from a diary kept by Halifax's lawyer and executor, John Thomas Batt, who has filled this notebook with details of his efforts to keep Halifax's rapacious mistress at bay and the epic burning of papers at the late Earl's various house. Bit part players include Lord Hinchingbrooke (First Lord of the Admiralty), Sir George Osborn, and General Johnson.
Batt begins his diary with an account of one of the last suppers he enjoyed with his ailing friend George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, known as 'father of the colonies' for his success in fostering American trade and founding Halifax, Nova Scotia while serving as President of the Board of Trade. The diarist reports that George III's physician Dr Noah Thomas was also in attendance at Green House, Bushey Park (now known as Hampton Court House) where Batt describes Halifax as 'very ill, languid, low in spirits... seemed not to relish Company tho Glad to see us.' After receiving several ever more despairing news of Halifax's declining health the long awaited confirmation arrives on Saturday June 8th via Halifax's mistress: ''Mrs Donaldson's footman brought me a verbal message from her that Lord Halifax died at four'. Halifax had a reputation for extravagance and the post mortem ordered by his relatives did indeed suggest that he drank himself to death: 'all the intestines were sound except the liver which was decayed and petrified and the undoubted cause of his death.' Batt details the arrangements for his funeral at the family seat at Horton in Northamptonshire a week after his death.
The meat of the diary comes in the battle with the late Earl's mistress Anna Maria Donaldson for control over his posthumous affairs. Amongst 'much discourse' between the lawyer and the mistress who acknowledges 'the bad condition he had left them [his financial affairs] in' Batt encounters a fearsome adversary. A former opera singer, Mrs Anna Maria Donaldson had been Halifax's mistress since at least the 1750s when he built Green House for her, she bore Halifax a daughter and reveals herself here as utterly determined not to lose her hard won privileges as maîtresse-en-titre.
As an opening gambit 'Mrs D told me there were three original wills... she asked me whether it was necessary to produce hers... she said there was a codicil to hers not with the rest.' Batt responds deadpan: 'That circumstance Madam is an additional reason to produce it.' With Mrs Donaldson safely isolated in an upstairs the rooms the rival wills are read in the presence of Lord Hinchinbrooke (First Lord of the Admiralty, responsible for British Navy during American War Independence), Sir George Osborn, [Edward] Sedgwick (secretary) and General Johnson.
As the legal process unfolds Batt attempts to secure Halifax's properties and their contents. He describes a visit to Horton on October 2nd: 'made further progress with Papers - particularly a large library writing table with Drawers - in which were many Letters of private friends as long since as the year 1742, 1743.... burnt all the letters particularly a draw full on the election of Northamptonshire when Mr Hanbury's interest was espoused by Lord Halifax'. Staff are paid off and occasional gifts dispersed including to 'Sir Robert Throgmorton having expres'd a desire to have a wooden image of an American Indian and a skin of a Zebra stuffed - I consented.'
Meanwhile Mrs Donaldson makes a mockery of Batt's attempt to disperse Halifax's estate in a controlled way, making off with jewels, saying 'she had them; that Lord Halifax has given them to her the night before he last went to Bushey.' After considering laying criminal charges Batt and his team 'agreed to leave out the charges ag't Mrs D as she had given up the jewels readily and tho we cou'd alledge embezzlements we cou'd no prove them.' Thwarted by Batt on this front, Mrs Donaldson 'desired leave to remove her wearing apparel from Grosvenor Square. She came there July 9... and removed according to Mrs Newlands' account 13 Boxes and Packages. This alarmed us.' In mitigation she informs Lord Orwell that 'on her word and credit they contained nothing but Apparel of hers and the child's. Credat Judeus.' Applying pressure through her lawyer, Batt plays hard ball and 'refused unless she would Prove them or give us Security for the value - this she cou'd not do.'
The diary breaks off before probate has been awarded in early October of 1771. Halifax left no legitimate children and his titles became extinct on his death. The house that he built for Mrs Donaldson still stands and is now a private school and wedding venue.
This diary comes from a collection of John Thomas Batt's papers. He was an upmarket lawyer who knew everyone in late eighteenth century London, served in the Rockingham alliance and was close to Edward Gibbon. The diary is classic Batt in that it is an account of his friendship with the dying Lord Halifax that spills over into his professional life as a lawyer.
John Thomas Batt of London and New Hall, Downton (1746-1831) was a successful lawyer dealing with the most prominent families of the late eighteenth century, friend and confidant to many of the notable figures of the day, including Lord Halifax and Edward Gibbon (for whom he acted as executor), the younger Pitt and James Harris, the musical patron. LORD HALIFAX EXECUTOR AND 'MAN ABOUT TOWN':