Admiral Mitford and Madeira

I have this week discovered yet again what an amazing research tool the internet is! Through the Amherst website I have met a distant, but most distinguished, cousin as Hugh is the 37th Squire of Mitford. A remarkable family that held the estate of Mitford in Northumberland for nearly a 1000 years – and the main branch of the family that gave rise to the notorious ‘Mitford girls’, among many other rather splendid characters.

The Shearwater off Madeira
The Shearwater off Madeira

Unfortunately the Northumberland lot were not very good at producing heirs when they were needed, so the lines of inheritance got rather convoluted leading in the end to the family’s down turn in fortune and the sad sale of the last acres of the surviving estate in the 90’s.

Anyway, Hugh is as deeply involved with researching his ancestors, as I am mine – and as our researches both include Admiral Robert Mitford (my great, great, great grandfather) he very kindly sent me the following entry in an auction catalogue of a few years ago: 

A BOX of decanters and glasses which once belonged to one of Castle Morpeth’s most famous seafaring men is to go under the hammer in Newcastle on March 12. Dating to the early 19th century and contained in a rustic metal-bound oak case, the drinking set owned by Admiral Robert Mitford, of Mitford Castle, is to be sold by auctioneers Anderson & Garland …’

The entry goes on to explain that the Admiral was supposed to have been detailed by Queen Victoria to collect a consignment of Madeira, (from Madeira!!!) and then sail it home to England via the Equator – anyone with any sense of direction might think that this was not the most direct route – but apparently shaking and heating the madeira wine ‘improved it’ – so what could be more sensible than loading up a ship with wine and sending it down to the equator for plenty of natural heating and shaking!

This piece of information sent me back to check out the Admiral’s sketchbook – he was an immensely talented artist – and while the sketchbook is not in great condition, the paintings are good to superb!!! And I came across this little drawing captioned  ‘A Shearwater shot off the back of a turtle off Madeira‘ – who knows if this was painted on the trip described above – but it is really nice to conjecture that it was!!!

While I do feel rather bad at the sad demise of the shearwater and hope the turtle didn’t end up as soup  (I’m not confident of that!) – pre photos, the only way you could get a creature to stay still long enough to record it properly, was to kill it, skin it, and preserve it till you got home – then you could stuff it and draw it. Apparently the Admiral’s daughter was a renowned taxidermist – she was obviously taught by an expert!!




3 Replies to “Admiral Mitford and Madeira”

  1. Hello Angela,
    I loved reading this article about Admiral Robert Mitford, my/our, great great great grandfather.
    Hi cousin!
    His daughter Margaret married William Amherst Tyssen.
    Their youngest daughter of seven, Geraldine, is the daughter i’m descended from.
    I guess there must be about 180 of us great great grand children of Margaret Mitford.
    I would love to hear from you, I do have a curious question!

    1. Hi Arabella,
      How great to hear from you. Finding new relations is definitely one of the joys of my website! So you must be a Drummond? Charlotte is almost my twin – I think she is two days older than me! I must say I love the Admiral – He was a very talented artist and a respected scientific illustrator. I’d love to hear your curious question – not sure I’ll be able to answer it though! Angela

  2. Hi,
    I work in an antiques shop in London and we have an oak box chest presented to Admiral Robert Mitford. It reads:
    Hunmanby Presented by the Yorkshire Tenantry to Admiral Robert Mitford on attaining his 86th birthday 26th January 1867
    Its a rather handsome box with inlaid crescent moons. I thought you might find that interesting.

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