The Curious Case of the Townshend Heirlooms Sale

Essay by Martin Postle

There would be difficulty in citing a sale to which the interest of ‘ancestrality’ attached in such peculiar degree as to that of part of the Townshend heirlooms, dispersed at Christie’s on March 3–7. Onward from the great days of the Armada, ancestors of the Marquess of Townshend [sic] have had their names enrolled, as admirals, soldiers, statesmen, courtiers, in the pages of English history. A malign fate decreed, however, that pictorial effigies of many of these Townshends, of those who had fought under or been associated with them, cups out of which centuries ago they had drunk, should be submitted for public competition on the ‘auction or outcry – who-bids-most’ system. One recompense there was: the pedigree of the various objects had a very definite money-equivalent.1

Over the course of four days in early March 1904 a major collection of paintings, silver and furnishings from Raynham Hall, Norfolk, were auctioned at Christie’s, London, on behalf of the 6th Marquess Townshend (fig. 1). By the early decades of the eighteenth century the Townshends were already established as among the most ambitious aristocratic families in Britain, accruing political power, possessions and estates at a local and national level. By the late 1780s the Townshend dynasty had achieved its apogee, when George Townshend, a professional soldier and politician, was created 1st Marquess Townshend. Within a decade, however, the first of a series of misfortunes occurred when, in 1796, Lord Townshend’s son Charles was shot dead by his own brother, who was subsequently declared insane. During the nineteenth century the family was embroiled increasingly in scandal and fell financially on hard times, a demise which led to the Townshend Heirlooms sale of 1904. Although the financial crisis which led to the sale of 1904 was common enough among the British landed aristocracy at the time, due principally to the crash in land values and related income, the circumstances surrounding this sale, the cast of characters involved and its aftermath were extraordinary, not to say bizarre. It is the story of the events leading up to the sale, the auction itself and its aftermath which forms the substance of this essay.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library.

Figure 1.
‘Catalogue of The Townshend Heirlooms comprising Important Pictures by Old Master and Family Portraits from Raynham Hall, Norfolk’, Christie, Manson & Woods, Saturday March 5 and Monday March 7 1904, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library.

Digital image courtesy of Internet Archive. (Public domain)

Upon the death of George, 1st Marquess Townshend, in 1807 the title passed to his eldest son, George, Lord Ferrers (1753–1811), who had also inherited the title of the Earl of Leicester. In 1811, aged fifty-eight, the 2nd Marquess died suddenly and was succeeded in turn by his elder son, George (1778–1855). By this time, Lord Townshend had been mired in scandal as the result of an alleged homosexual affair.2 On the death of the 3rd Marquess in 1855, the title passed to a cousin, John Townshend, son of Lord John Townshend, who had himself been the younger son of the 1st Marquess. In 1863, John, 4th Marquess Townshend, died at Raynham Hall in a riding accident. He was succeeded to the title by his son, John Villiers Stuart Townshend, 5th Marquess Townshend, who in 1865 married Lady Anne Clementina Duff, the daughter of James Duff, 5th Earl of Fife. The following year, in 1866, Lady Townshend gave birth to a son and heir, John James Dudley Stuart Townshend – the central character in the present narrative (fig. 2).


Figure 2.
John James Dudley Stuart Townshend, 6th Marquess Townshend, aged 25, in The Marchioness Townshend of Raynham, It Was – And it Wasn’t, London: John Long Ltd, 1937, opposite p. 128, Photograph.

Digital image courtesy of John Long Ltd. (All rights reserved)

In 1887, aged twenty-one, John Townshend, Viscount Raynham, attained his majority and became a life tenant of the family estates. Under a resettlement of 7 February 1888, he also acquired a large number of heirlooms located at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, and Balls Park, Hertfordshire. By the early 1890s the family’s estates were heavily mortgaged and in 1895 were placed in the hands of a receiver. In order to reduce the level of debt, estates in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Hertfordshire had been sold to pay off encumbrances, and only the estate at Raynham remained. In 1899 following the death of his father, Viscount Raynham succeeded as 6th Marquess Townshend. As it was reported a few years later, Lord Townshend relied at that time on an annual income of around £100 derived from the rent paid by the tenant of Raynham Hall, plus a further £100 provided by his trustees, and a ‘voluntary allowance’ from his mother, the Marchioness.3

At his death, the 5th Marquess Townshend had left no property, except, it was noted, ‘some valuable china and other chattels; and these the executor retained against his debt, with the intention of settling them on the family as heirlooms on the same trusts as those in the resettlement affecting the heirlooms thereby settled. Lord St Levan carried out this intention by a deed poll dated June 21, 1900’.4 A few years later, in February 1903, following the appointment of new trustees, a further deed of settlement was signed by Lord Townshend, in which the pictures at Raynham Hall were introduced as heirlooms. According to the terms set out in the Settled Land Act of 1882, Lord Townshend, as a life tenant, was entitled to raise capital through the sale of ‘chattels’ or heirlooms.5 Given that the Townshend estates were heavily mortgaged and properties were let out to tenants, the sale of family heirlooms, notably the pictures, was one of the few means of raising revenue. However, in order to expedite the sale, a court order was necessary. Accordingly, on 7 December 1903 an application was put before the Court of Chancery to sell heirlooms, including pictures, furniture and silver plate. Lord Townshend’s barrister, who enumerated the considerable debts with which the estates were burdened, noted also that Townshend’s present meagre income even meant that he was ‘in an impecunious position and unable to marry’ or produce an heir. As the judge admitted, ‘it appears impossible to me that both the Raynham estate and the heirlooms can possibly be preserved. Something has to go.’6 Ruling in Lord Townshend’s favour, he concluded that he ‘came to the Court for relief through no fault of his own, and it was desirable that a person with a title such as he held should be able to keep it up with fitting dignity. Under the circumstances he . . . would permit the heirlooms to be sold by auction.’7

Among the heirlooms at Raynham Hall mentioned in the application were about four hundred pictures, ‘some having been there for generations’. It was proposed now to sell the most valuable pictures, for an estimated £20,000, leaving about two hundred pictures at Raynham. In the course of the court application there was one dissenting voice, that of Colonel Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (fig. 3), Lord Townshend’s second cousin, and heir presumptive, who would have succeeded to the title and estates should the 6th Marquess have died without male issue. While Colonel Townshend did not oppose the sale of family furniture or silver plate, he filed an affidavit in which he expressed ‘a very strong objection to the sale of any portraits of members of the Townshend family, or of persons possessing for historical or political reasons any close connections with or interest to the family’.8 The judge, in rejecting his plea, observed that, despite Colonel Townshend’s protestations, ‘it does not appear . . . that there is any particular picture he has any affection for, or that he really knows anything about them.’ Also, unlike the impoverished, unmarried Marquess, he had married the daughter of ‘a man of large wealth’ and were he eventually to inherit the Townshend estates his father-in-law would provide him with an allowance.9 The wealth of Colonel Townshend’s father-in-law, as it transpired, proved a significant factor in the trajectory of the ensuing auction.

Captain Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend in the uniform of Captain, Central India Horse

Figure 3.
Captain Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend in the uniform of Captain, Central India Horse, 1892. Photograph.

Digital image courtesy of William Heinemann, 1928 (All rights reserved)

Background to the Heirlooms Sales

In order to understand the highly personal circumstances surrounding the 1904 Townshend heirlooms sale it is necessary to track back to the early years of John, 6th Marquess Townshend. His father John, the 5th Marquess, had been a larger than life figure, a noted philanthropist and somewhat eccentric social reformer, characterised in a cartoon of 1870 as ‘The Beggar’s friend’, owing to his espousal of a range of liberal causes directed towards the welfare of the poor.10 He appeared to have been less interested in his own offspring, and his son’s upbringing was deeply troubled. When he was eight years old, Viscount Raynham’s mother ran off with a notorious old philanderer, Lord Edward Thynne. During his early years Viscount Raynham had spent time at Raynham Hall and the family’s other country residence, Balls Park in Hertfordshire, although in later years, when his parents moved to Paris, Raynham and his younger sister were farmed out to relatives, including their uncle, John Townshend St Aubyn, 2nd Baron St Levan, at St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall, and their grandfather, the Earl of Fife. Of restricted physical growth and mentally frail, Viscount Raynham was, aged seventeen, placed at St Mark’s College, Chelsea, a religious institution, founded by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education. At the time he was lodging in Chiswick with a certain Reverend Kitcat.11 It was around 1892, while staying with Kitcat, that he met Arthur Geoffrey Robins, then an assistant clergyman at the church of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street.12 Robins was to have a profound impact on Lord Raynham’s future life and fortunes, and it was he who ultimately masterminded the sale of the Townshend heirlooms.

Arthur Geoffrey Robins was born in 1860, the son of the Reverend Arthur Robins, a well-respected cleric, who was chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria and chaplain to the Prince of Wales and the Household Guards. A colourful character, who penned popular fiction as a hobby, Robins was known affectionately during his time as rector of Holy Trinity, Windsor, as the ‘Soldier’s Bishop’. He was also the son of the legendary London art dealer and auctioneer George Henry Robins, whose sales had included the auction over twenty-three days of the celebrated contents of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill in 1842 by the Earl of Waldegrave. A compulsive interest in selling art and the financial rewards which could accrue from it were traits inherited by his grandson, Arthur Geoffrey Robins.

During the mid-1890s the young Viscount Raynham became increasingly dependent on the Reverend Robins whom he looked up to for advice and friendship. Lord Townshend’s future wife, who met Robins for the first time shortly after the Heirlooms sale, remembered him as ‘a slim, dark, aesthetic looking individual, with strange and compelling eyes. His manners were excellent, but when he smiled an unusual turn of the lip indicated hidden depths, which one sensed might easily become dangerous.’13 In 1895 Robins, married with a wife and two small children, was appointed vicar at the church of St Barnabas, Leeds. According to Robins, it was at the suggestion of Mrs Frances Cashel Hoey, a friend of Lady Townshend, that Viscount Raynham came to live with him, although Viscount Raynham recalled that it had been Robins’s own idea.14 At that time Viscount Raynham’s income was composed of an allowance of £500 from his mother, the Marchioness Townshend, and £200 from his executor, Lord St Levan. Crucially, it was shortly after moving to Leeds that Robins entered into an agreement of employment with Viscount Raynham, who paid him an annual salary of £250 in return for which he supplied his various needs.15 Between 1897 and 1899, Lord Raynham’s allowances were channelled systematically into Robins’s bank account – a practice which intensified over the next few years, as Robins strengthened his grip on all aspects of the young Viscount’s life.

On 6 October 1899 the 5th Marquess Townshend died in Paris, aged sixty-eight. The body was taken back to England and interred in the family vault at All Saint’s Church, Hertford, with Viscount Raynham, his mother and sister, and other members of the family in attendance. On 17 November, Viscount Raynham assumed the title of the 6th Marquess Townshend. By this time Raynham Hall was let out to tenants, as was Balls Park, which was purchased by the Faudel-Phillips family of bankers outright in 1901. Although Lord Townshend could not reside at Raynham Hall, he moved back to the estate, when in March 1900 he appointed Arthur Robins as his personal chaplain, and presented him with the living of East and West Raynham, which came with a healthy income of £800 per annum.16 Lord Townshend duly took up residence at the rectory at West Raynham, alongside Robins, his wife and young family. The church at West Raynham was by now a ruin, and St Mary, East Raynham – situated a stone’s throw from Raynham Hall – functioned as the church for both parishes. At this time Lord Townshend and Robins began to make frequent forays to Raynham Hall (fig. 4) and in the course of his explorations, Robins’s interest in the collection was piqued as he became increasingly familiar with the pictures, china, plate and furnishings. Although Robins later denied that he had even been a picture dealer, he confessed that he was ‘picture “mad”’.17 As Lord Townshend’s future wife recalled, the ‘Robins establishment was run on Bohemian lines, and displayed one marked characteristic – a frenzied interest in the treasures at Raynham’.18

View of Raynham Hall

Figure 4.
View of Raynham Hall, Photograph.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

Life in the purlieu of Raynham Hall came to an end abruptly in 1901, due to a scandal involving a liaison between Robins and a young woman named Frances Ridsdale, whose father was vicar at the nearby parish of St Martin’s, South Raynham, and who was related to Lord Townshend through her maternal grandmother.19 As a result, Robins resigned his living, and although Lord Townshend attempted to have him reinstated the Bishop of Norwich refused his request. Robins therefore relinquished his clerical position by taking advantage of the Clerical Disabilities Act.20 In November 1901 Lord Townshend left West Raynham, renting a house at Westover, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex. There he lived with Robins, his wife and children, including a new arrival, Robins’s fourth child, Arthur Prichard Townshend Robins.21 They were also accompanied by Frances Ridsdale, although her status in the household remains uncertain.22

By now Robins had no means of employment other than remuneration for services rendered to Lord Townshend. His energies thenceforth were concentrated on raising money through the private sale of items from Lord Townshend’s collection. They included, in the first instance, a large quantity of china stored in a locked room at Raynham Hall, including ‘vases, jars, crested plates, and dinner and breakfast sets’, which Robins and Lord Townshend viewed for the first time around June 1900. As Lord Townshend recalled: ‘The door of the china room at Raynham had a notice painted on it stating that the contents were the property of the Marquis Townshend’.23 China was also removed from Balls Park (fig. 5) prior to the sale of the house in 1901 and, together with the pieces from Raynham Hall, was deposited at the rectory at West Raynham, where it was put on display on the billiard table for inspection by local dealers who purchased it cash-in-hand.24 Those pieces which remained unsold were transported to the south coast, where they were sold by Robins to dealers in and around Brighton. As Lord Townshend himself stated subsequently, he had ‘remonstrated with Robins about the quantity of china taken away by the dealers, but the reply was that these things were of no use . . . that they were better sold and that he must consider others in the matter, meaning . . . Robins himself’.25 As it transpired, the china constituted part of the heirlooms settlement, and as such could not be simply disposed of without a court order, a fact which Robins chose to overlook.26

Balls Park, Hertfordshire

Figure 5.
Balls Park, Hertfordshire, Photograph. Country Life Picture Library (8153-4).

Digital image courtesy of Country Life Picture Library. (All rights reserved)

In addition to organising and profiting from the sale of items from the Townshend collection, Robins became embroiled in schemes to find Lord Townshend a wife. It was with this aim in mind that he organised a trip to America in the spring of 1902, intending to ensnare a wealthy heiress who, in exchange for a title, might inject some much-needed funds into the Townshend coffers. Subsequent newspaper reports of the trip contained lurid accounts of Robins’s quest to acquire powers of mesmerism in order to hypnotise Lord Townshend into doing his Svengali-like bidding. Robins himself claimed that he had merely consulted a couple of clairvoyants while in Chicago and in New York, and the so-called mesmerism of which he was accused involved little more than an attempt to provide Lord Townshend with ‘breathing exercises’.27 In the event, the trip to America proved fruitless, although on their return to England Robins introduced Lord Townshend to an exotic widow named Evelyn Diana Tourner Sheffield, to whom Lord Townshend made a formal proposal of marriage in September 1903. However, as was revealed early in 1905, when she took Lord Townshend to court for breach of promise, Mrs Sheffield, the daughter of a Southampton publican, who had herself come to London as a barmaid, was far less exotic or wealthy than she claimed to be.28 Although Robins’s plans to find Lord Townshend a wife stalled, in the intervening period he became deeply involved in monetising the Townshend collection, beyond the revenue he had obtained through the sale of the family china. To this end, in February 1903 he persuaded Lord Townshend to appoint him, together with a solicitor, John Abercrombie Holdsworth, as his executor and trustee.29 With these new powers Robins was now, as he himself later noted, in a position to advise that certain family heirlooms should be sold to assist in paying off debts on the Townshend estates.30 Approval was duly granted via the court order of December 1903.

The Heirlooms Sale

The public auctions of heirlooms from Raynham Hall commenced at Christie’s on Thursday 3 March 1904 with a sale of silver and silver-gilt plate, which went for a total of £4350. The main attraction was the so-called Bacon Cup dating from 1574, engraved with the arms and motto of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509–1576), first Keeper of the Great Seal to Elizabeth I. The cup, which had passed through marriage from Bacon’s granddaughter to the Townshend family, sold for £2500.31 Among other items was a silver-gilt christening cup presented by George I to his godson George, later 1st Marquess Townshend (1724–1807), and another presented by George II, to the 1st Marquess’s son, Lord John Townshend (1757–1833).32 Following a sale of furniture on Friday 5 March, the principal heirlooms sale took place at 1 p.m. on Saturday 5 and Monday 7 March, ‘comprising important pictures by Old Masters and family portraits’.33 When the sale of pictures had first been flagged up in the press in December 1903, The Times opined that the greater part of the collection ‘may be taken to consist of old family portraits, which possess little attraction (except to Americans on the look-out for ancestors), and for the most part possess a wooden similarity, which renders them anything but pleasant to live with’. It did concede, however, that it included ‘some important and many highly-interesting pictures, more particularly portraits’.34 As it transpired, the sale proved to be very popular, and during the two days leading up to it, the pictures were inspected by ‘many persons interested in art, including Lord Rosebery, Lord Ribblesdale, and other well-known connoisseurs’. And on the first day of the sale itself, Christie’s ‘great room was far too small to accommodate the crowd who were desirous of participating in the proceedings’.35

Over the course of the two days 196 works of art featured in the Townshend heirlooms sale, the majority being family portraits, with a smattering of Dutch landscapes and genre pictures. The only old-master painting of real distinction was Belisarius by Salvator Rosa, from the 1650s, which had been presented by Friedrich William I, King of Prussia to Charles, 2nd Viscount Townsend as a diplomatic gift. The picture had taken pride of place at Raynham Hall (fig. 6) since its arrival in the 1720s, when it was installed in an extravagant frame as a centre-piece in the spacious double-storey dining room designed by William Kent, which itself became known as the ‘Belisarius Chamber’. Celebrated as a paradigm of the ‘heroic sublime’, Rosa’s image was valued both as a pictorial icon and in financial terms, being valued in an inventory of 1810 at £5000.36 Despite its renown, Belisarius sold in 1904 for only £273.37 Its low sale value was a barometer of how taste had changed over the latter part of the nineteenth century, by which time the international art market had become captivated by British eighteenth-century portraiture, of which Raynham boasted many fine examples.

Tinted photograph of the Belisarius Room, Raynham Hall, featuring Belisarius by Salvator Rosa

Figure 6.
Tinted photograph of the Belisarius Room, Raynham Hall, featuring Belisarius by Salvator Rosa, c.1875-80. Raynham Hall Archives, Raynham Hall.

Digital image courtesy of Tom St Aubyn. (All rights reserved)

By some way the most expensive painting in the Townshend heirlooms sale was a modest head-and-shoulders portrait by George Romney of Georgiana Anne, Lady Townshend, wife of Lord John Townshend and great-grandmother of the 6th Marquess, which sold for £3307 10s (fig. 7).38 As The Times commented, the price fetched by this one portrait was ‘more than Romney earned at portraiture in any one of his best and most productive years’.39 Other eighteenth-century British portrait painters featured prominently in terms of prices in the Townshend sale. They included Thomas Gainsborough, whose late portrait of the young Robert Adair, which had apparently been discovered hanging on a nail in ‘one of the neglected garrets’ at Raynham, fetched £2000.40 John Hoppner’s head-and-shoulders ‘Portrait of a Lady’ was sold for £1417, despite the identity of the sitter being unknown.41 The sums fetched by both these portraits indicates the extent to which even relatively minor British portraits were prized by collectors, provided that they had a ‘decorative’ quality and aristocratic provenance. One British picture which sold for a lesser amount, although of far greater historical significance and quality, was Hogarth’s portrait of the actor James Quin, which had been in the collection of the 5th Marquess Townshend since 1867, although its precise date of acquisition is unknown.42 Purchased by Agnew for £756, it was sold on at cost price to the National Gallery: ‘a gem from the Townshend collection purchased for the nation’ (fig. 8).43

Georgiana Anne, Lady Townshend

Figure 7.
George Romney, Georgiana Anne, Lady Townshend, 1792-4. Oil on canvas, 77.5 X 64.8 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Christie's. (All rights reserved)

James Quin, in Illustrated London News, 19 March 1904, p. 1

Figure 8.
William Hogarth, James Quin, in Illustrated London News, 19 March 1904, p. 1,

Digital image courtesy of Illustrated London News. (All rights reserved)

The British artist who attracted the greatest attention, however, was Joshua Reynolds, who had captured, through a series of Grand Manner portraits, the power and prestige of Townshend dynasty in its prime.44 Works by Reynolds in the sale included, notably, the full-length portrait of George, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, in armour, of about 1778 (fig. 9), the full-length of his younger brother, Charles Townshend, in the robes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, painted about ten years earlier, and the flamboyant full-length of George, Lord Ferrers, son of the 1st Marquess, dressed in the uniform of the 15th King’s Light Dragoons, which Reynolds had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1775.45 One other major full-length by Reynolds flagged up before the sale was the portrait of Anne, Marchioness Townshend, wife of the 1st Marquess – ‘perhaps the most important of all’, according to The Times.46 However, as it transpired, the painting, together with another by Reynolds previously at Balls Park, had ‘mysteriously disappeared within the last three or four years’.47 Concern over the ‘missing’ picture was reflected in press comment in various newspapers, together with a reward of £100 for information leading to its whereabouts, placed by Robins’s solicitor in the The Daily Chronicle.48 In fact, unbeknown to Robins, the painting had been sold in 1877 by another branch of the family to the art dealer Henry Graves, and by the time its ‘disappearance’ was discovered, it was installed in a country house collection in Lancashire.49 It re-emerged at auction in the late 1920s and found its way to California, where it was subsequently donated to the De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco.50 What purported to be an associated version in pastels by Reynolds of the full-length oil portrait was featured in the 1904 sale, fetching just over a thousand pounds. It is more likely, however, to have been a copy by another artist.51

Oil on canvas, 237.5 × 146.1 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario (#48/6).

Figure 9.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, George, 1st Marquess Townshend, Oil on canvas, 237.5 × 146.1 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario (#48/6).

Digital image courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario. (All rights reserved)

In terms of the quantity of Townshend family portraits offered at the 1904 sale, a significant proportion was composed of seventeenth-century formal and official portraits, including Horatio, 1st Viscount Townshend by Peter Lely (fig. 10) and Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend by Kneller.52 Also by Kneller was the full-length portrait of Elizabeth Pelham, first wife of the 2nd Viscount.53 Beyond the portraits of the Townshends and their relations, the sale included the series of full-length military portraits, known as the ‘Vere Captains’, commissioned by Horace Vere, Baron Vere of Tilbury, a number of which had been exhibited by the 5th Marquess at the Royal Academy as recently as 1890.54 The portraits which had decorated the Red Saloon at Raynham Hall, following the remodelling of the interior by William Kent in the early decades of the eighteenth century, form the subject of a case study by Edward Town in the current project.

Oil on canvas, 221.0 × 129.9 cm. National Museum, Cardiff (NMW A 24).

Figure 10.
Sir Peter Lely, Horatio, First Viscount Townsend, Oil on canvas, 221.0 × 129.9 cm. National Museum, Cardiff (NMW A 24).

Digital image courtesy of National Museum, Cardiff. (All rights reserved)

Inevitably, given the prominent position of the Townshends at court, the sale boasted a number of royal portraits, including full-lengths of Queen Anne and Queen Caroline by Kneller, James II, also by Kneller, his first wife, Anne Hyde, by Lely, and a full-length of George II by Charles Jarvis.55 Of greater art-historical significance, however, were two earlier portraits of Charles II as a boy (fig. 11) and his sister, Princess Mary. In the sale they were attributed to Daniel Mytens, and the portrait of Princess Mary was identified incorrectly as Princess Henrietta. As The Times noted: ‘If the names of the personages are correct, it is difficult to see how these very fine portraits could have been painted by Mytens, who is known to have returned to Holland about 1630 and died there about 1642; they are distinctly suggestive of Vandyck, but he died in 1641’.56 The Art Journal also rejected the Mytens attribution, stating confidently that they were by Justus Sustermans.57 Despite questions concerning their authorship, their quality was reflected in the prices they fetched at the auction, purchased respectively for £483 and £535 by Agnew’s and sold to the banker Robert Henry Benson. A few years ago, in December 2018, the pictures, having descended through the Benson family, were sold by Sotheby’s, now attributed correctly to Van Dyck, for £2,620,000 and £790,000.58

Oil on canvas, 158.8 × 109.2 cm. Private Collection.

Figure 11.
Sir Anthony van Dyck, Charles II as a boy, Oil on canvas, 158.8 × 109.2 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Sotheby's. (All rights reserved)

The total sum raised in the two days of picture sales of the Townshend Heirlooms was £35,943, plus £4307 13 s 1d at the silver sale, and £722 18s 6d obtained for the furniture. In terms of the financial benefits that accrued to Lord Townshend, the sales had proved a great success for the auctioneer, almost doubling the pre-sale estimate of around £20,000. Yet there were differing views concerning its merits in terms of national heritage assets. Just prior to the auction The Times stated: ‘The predominant feeling, as one looks at this interesting assemblage of historical portraits, is one of regret that they are to leave their old home and to be scattered all over the world. At Raynham, they meant a great deal; they were the authentic illustrations of a great historic past, of the men of one family who through many generations had done noteworthy services to their country’.59 In contrast, The Spectator, in an up-beat article published immediately after the auction, argued that such sales were ‘very largely only a means of circulating these treasures, and of their removal from one setting to another’. It continued:

While a certain percentage is lost, or goes abroad, the order and tranquillity of English society tend to attract and retain precious possessions. They settle here on their way down the river of time, as gold settles in the quiet eddies of some auriferous stream. This must continue so long as the United Kingdom is the chosen home and retreat, not only of overseas Englishmen who have made fortunes, but of American and cosmopolitan millionaires who, with all the world to choose from, buy or build English country houses.60

Such sentiments were music to the ears of auctioneers and dealers, who were then profiting handsomely from the enforced redistribution of art treasures at home and abroad.

A review of the purchasers of pictures at the Townshend Heirlooms sale reveals that the majority were established art dealers, notably Agnew’s, Colnaghi & Co., Duveen, Leggatt Brothers, Vokins, Thomas Wallis of the French Gallery, Asher Wertheimer, as well as the newcomers Gooden & Fox. The dealers acted, for the most part, on behalf of private clients, who had an interest in particular items. They included Henry Brassey (1870–1958), grandson of Thomas Brassey, the great railway contractor and engineer. Brassey bought nine portraits, including six of the full-length Vere Captains, and a portrait of Eleanor (Nell) Gwyn.61 His purchases coincided with his acquisition in 1904 of Apethorpe Palace, Northamptonshire, from the financially distressed Fane family, and formed part of his scheme of refurbishment.62 Another prominent buyer was Sir George Faudel-Phillips (1840–1922), who had purchased Balls Park from Lord Townshend in 1901. Among his purchases were several portraits of members of the Harrison family, who had brought Balls Park into the ownership of the Townshends though intermarriage in the eighteenth century, and a full-length of George I by Kneller.63 Presumably, the works that interested him most were also those that had hung at Balls Park prior to their removal by Robins and Lord Townshend, and his acquisition of the property. A third buyer who deserves to be mentioned was Charles Fairfax Murray (1849–1919), the noted connoisseur and philanthropist, who gifted the five portraits he purchased at the sale, along with a group of other British portraits, to Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1911.64 Finally, there was the merchant banker and collector Robert Henry Benson (1850–1929), who bought several of the full-length Vere Captains as well as the portraits of Charles II as a boy and Princess Mary, now known to be by Van Dyck.65

By far the most prodigious purchaser of works of art at the Townshend Heirlooms sale was a family member, the aforementioned Colonel Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, cousin of the 6th Marquess. Colonel Townshend was a fascinating character in his own right.66 Born in 1861, he was, like the 6th Marquess, the great-grandson of Lord John Townshend, although his own family’s fortunes had suffered a significant decline and his father was employed as a railway clerk. A career soldier, Charles Townshend served with distinction in a series of Imperial campaigns in the Sudan and the North-West Frontier of India and was regarded generally as a war hero. A flamboyant character, driven by ruthless ambition and an immense ego, Townshend was also obsessed with his aristocratic lineage and potential inheritance. As he noted ruefully in his diary on a visit to Balls Park in 1895, ‘A splendid family like ours, and Lord Townshend cannot afford to live at Raynham Hall . . . or at Balls Park . . . To think of it all, and the last century there was no family more powerful than ours . . . I wonder if ever I shall be the means of restoring some of the prestige to the family.’67

Fortunately, Colonel Townshend was able to restore some measure of prestige through the financial backing of the fabulously wealthy French banker Count Louis Cahen d’Anvers (1837–1922), whose daughter, Alice Cahen d’Anvers, he had married in 1898. At the time of the auction, Colonel Townshend was posted in India and it was only on his return home later in the year that he found a telegram from Count Cahen d’Anvers, informing him that he had purchased many pictures at the sale, thus saving them for the Townshend family.68 In total, Cahen d’Anvers purchased more than thirty works.69 Indeed, a survey of the most expensive and most significant family portraits in the sale reveals Townshend’s father-in-law to have been the purchaser. They included Romney’s portrait of Georgiana Anne, Lady Townshend (lot 95); Reynolds’s full-length portraits of the 1st Marquess Townshend (lot 89), Charles Townshend (lot 91), and George, Lord Ferrers (lot 93), as well as his head-and-shoulders portraits of the 1st Marquess Townshend (lot 90) and Charles Townshend (lot 92). Among his other acquisitions were Kneller’s full-length portraits of Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (lot 83) and his first wife, Elizabeth Pelham (84), as well as Hoppner’s portrait of an unknown lady of the Townshend family (lot 62), Lady Charlotte Compton, first wife of George, 1st Marquess Townshend by Thomas Hudson (lot 35) and the full-length portrait of Sir Edward Vere (lot 51), cousin of Sir Horace Vere, the commissioner of the ‘Vere Captains’ series. In addition, Townshend purchased at least one non-family portrait, Gainsborough’s portrait of Robert Adair (lot 59).70

Townshend’s acquisitions were spread eventually across several properties. At his home, Vere Lodge, in Raynham, Norfolk, which he purchased in 1911, he displayed at one time Gainsborough’s Robert Adair, Hoppner’s unknown lady, Reynolds’s head-and-shoulders portrait of the 1st Marquess and the full-length of Sir Edward Vere.71 Other paintings were kept in France, in houses owned by his father-in-law. Reynolds’s Lord Ferrers and Romney’s Lady Townshend were displayed at Count Cahen d’Anvers’s country house, the Château de Champs-sur-Marne, while Reynolds’s full-length of the 1st Marquess was housed there or in his opulent Paris mansion, L’hôtel Cahen d’Anvers, constructed in 1880 by the leading French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur.72 Given Destailleur’s contemporaneous construction of Waddesdon Manor for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the Vale of Aylesbury, it is fascinating to recall that as Cahen d’Anvers was placing Reynolds’s Grand Manner portraits in his French properties, similar relocated portraits by Reynolds were already installed at Rothschild’s English chateau at Waddesdon.73

In theory, the success of the Townshend Heirlooms auctions of March 1904, which raised just over forty thousand pounds, should have eased Lord Townshend’s monetary problems, at least in terms of the debts incurred on the estate.74 In reality, matters deteriorated significantly on both the personal and financial front, in no small measure due to the continued machinations of Arthur Robins. Although the full story of Robins’s activities in the wake of the Heirlooms sale, and the extraordinary role played by Lord Townshend’s future father-in-law and his wife, lie beyond the remit of the present study, a brief summary of the unfolding of events over the next few decades is provided here by way of a conclusion.

Aftermath of the Sale

In May 1904, only two months after the Heirlooms sales, Lord Townshend, ‘with an income diminished almost to vanishing point’, appointed Robins as his agent for a ten-year term on a vast salary, as well as altering his will in his favour.75 In the spring of 1905, following the failed attempt in court by the widowed ex-barmaid, Mrs Sheffield, to seek damages against Lord Townshend for a breach of promise of marriage, Robins was introduced to a barrister named Thomas Sutherst, an ‘opportunist’, blessed with ‘eloquence and persuasive powers’.76 On the pretence of being able to extricate Lord Townshend from his financial problems through a substantial loan, Sutherst – who was in fact heavily in debt – offered the hand of his own daughter, Gwladys, in marriage (fig. 12).77 Although Gwladys, then aged eighteen, was evidently an attractive and talented young woman, the sole interest of both Robins and Sutherst was financial gain. Accordingly, on 9 August 1905, following a whirlwind courtship, Lord Townshend was frogmarched down the aisle at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.78 Following a brief honeymoon in Paris, the couple officially set up home at 45 Brook Street, Mayfair – although shortly afterwards Lord Townshend moved back to Brighton to live with Robins and his family. Evidently fearing that he would remain under Robins’s control indefinitely, Sutherst hatched an elaborate plot to lure Lord Townshend back to London where he was placed under lock and key in the Brook Street residence on the grounds that doctors had certified him to be insane.

Gwladys, Marchioness Townshend née Gwladys Ethel Gwendolen Eugénie Sutherst

Figure 12.
Gwladys, Marchioness Townshend née Gwladys Ethel Gwendolen Eugénie Sutherst , c.1906. Negative. Lafayette / Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Neg. No. (GP) 4999).

Digital image courtesy of Lafayette / Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (All rights reserved)

In July 1906, at the instigation of Sutherst, who had by then fallen out with Robins, an inquiry was held at Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall into the mental health of Lord Townshend, the Suthersts’ intention being to ascertain that, due to his insanity, he was no longer able to look after his own financial affairs.79 The inquiry proved a sensation, with lurid accounts of the removal of Lord Townshend physically from the influence of Robins by effectively kidnapping him.80 After two weeks of evidence and cross-examination the verdict was reached: Lord Townshend, although incapable of managing his financial affairs, was found not to be insane (fig. 13). The judge, who expressed considerable sympathy for Lord Townshend’s predicament, was scathing about all who had been complicit in manipulating his life and financial affairs to their own advantage, in particular Robins and Sutherst, who, in the wake of the case, was struck off from the bar. Despite the traumatic public exposure, by the conclusion of the inquiry, Lord and Lady Townshend were apparently reconciled and the formidable Gwladys turned her attention towards the pursuit of Arthur Robins and his ill-gotten gains.


Figure 13.
‘The End of the Townshend Case’, The Graphic, August 18, 1906, p. 212, 1906.

Digital image courtesy of Martin Postle. (All rights reserved)

In March 1908, guided by his wife, Lord Townshend took action in the High Court to remove Arthur Robins as a trustee on the grounds of misappropriating the Townshend heirlooms and of financial misconduct. Having reviewed considerable evidence relating to Robins’s alleged misconduct, it was ordered that he should be removed as a trustee and that there should be an inquiry into the Townshend chattels, ‘with an order for payment by Robins of the value of those which had disappeared’.81 Several months later, on 30 July 1908, Lord Townshend served a bankruptcy notice on Robins in the High Court of Justice. By that time, however, Robins had left his residence in Hove and his whereabouts were unknown.82 In fact, as emigration records reveal, he had already left the country, having boarded the SS Marathon, of the Aberdeen Line, bound for Melbourne, on 13 May, accompanied by his wife and two sons, his occupation listed as ‘farmer’.83 Robins’s death is recorded in the state of Victoria, Australia in 1910.84 He was survived by sons and his wife, who died aged ninety-nine, in 1967.85 Thomas Sutherst, who evidently kept in close touch with his daughter, died aged sixty-five on board the Lusitania, when, on 7 May 1915, it was sunk by a German torpedo on the way from New York to Liverpool.86 He had been in the United States, as Lady Townshend recalled, ‘on one of his never-ending financial speculations’.87


In May 1911, Lord and Lady Townshend moved into their ‘first real home’, a spacious residence in Avenue Road, Hampstead; ‘large and rambling rather like a country house’.88 Over the next few years Lady Townshend, supported by her husband, pursued her career as a playwright and scenario writer for silent films, claiming to be ‘the first peeress to write for the Cinema’.89 The biggest news, however, was the birth of a son and heir, George John Patrick Dominic Townshend, in May 1916. The British press duly rejoiced at the birth of the Townshend heir, commenting that ‘the likeness of the Townshend baby and the marquess is quite striking’.90 The Washington Post, however, under the banner headline ‘The Mystery of the Marchioness’s Baby’, described it as ‘a startling surprise’.91 No one was more surprised, perhaps, than the hitherto heir presumptive, George Vere Ferrers Townshend, who was at that time imprisoned by the Turks, something of a war hero following a bloody year-long siege at Kut Al Mara.92

In 1921, the 6th Marquess died aged fifty-five, expressing a wish to be buried in the family vault at All Saints, Hertford, Balls Park, rather than at St Mary’s, East Raynham. Shortly afterwards the widowed Marchioness moved back to Raynham Hall with her son, the 7th Marquess, and his younger sister (fig. 14). Three years later, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, no longer heir-presumptive, died in Paris aged sixty-three, leaving his Raynham picture collection in the possession of his widow, who gradually sold them off at auction over the ensuing decades.

1919. Whole-plate glass negative. National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x158477).

Figure 14.
Bassano Ltd., Gwladys (née Sutherst), Marchioness Townshend with her children, 1919. Whole-plate glass negative. National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG x158477).

Digital image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Meanwhile, with the improvement in the finances of the family’s estates, Lady Townshend took the first steps in restoring Raynham to its former status. She also pursued her career as writer, including in 1936 a volume entitled True Ghost Stories, which featured an account of the ‘Brown Lady’ of Raynham Hall, the supposed ghost of Dorothy Walpole, wife of 2nd Viscount Townshend, who was rumoured to haunt the oak staircase.93 Shortly afterwards, evidently capitalising on the publication of Lady Townshend’s book, two photographers succeeded in capturing an image of a ghost on the same staircase at Raynham. The photograph featured in an article in Country Life magazine published on 26 December, as discussed in Jon Law's film, Figure on a Staircase: History as Haunting in the British Country House. The phantom was identified subsequently as the so-called ‘Brown Lady’ (fig. 15).94 Although it was exposed subsequently as a fake, and Lady Townshend apparently had nothing to do with its manufacture, the image succeeded in establishing Raynham – now denuded of its valuable heirlooms – as the most celebrated haunted country house in Britain. That, however, is another curious case.

‘The Ghost of Raynham Hall. An Astonishing Photograph’, Country Life Magazine, 26 December 1936, p. 673

Figure 15.
‘The Ghost of Raynham Hall. An Astonishing Photograph’, Country Life Magazine, 26 December 1936, p. 673 ,

Digital image courtesy of Country Life Magazine. (All rights reserved)


  • Dr Martin Postle is Deputy Director for Grants and Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Head of British Art to 1900 at Tate. Martin's research and publication interests focus principally on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, including portraiture, landscape and the history of art academies. He has curated exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, including the artist’s model, the Fancy Picture and the art of the garden, as well as monographic exhibitions on Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Richard Wilson, Stanley Spencer and George Stubbs. Martin is project leader and commissioning editor of ‘Art & the Country House’, to which he has contributed a number of essays and catalogue entries.


  1. The Art Journal, May 1904, p. 154.

  2. While Lord Townshend departed for Italy, where he spent the rest of his life, his wife entered into a second, bigamous marriage. In 1843, the children by her second husband were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament, through a petition filed by the Marquess’s younger brother. See the Townshend Peerage Bill, 1843, Hansard 1803–2005, (accessed 4 February 2019).

  3. For information on the 1882 resettlement and legal issues relating to the Townshend estates see ‘High Court of Justice. Chancery Division. Monday Dec. 7, 1903. (Before Farwell, J.) Re Townshend Settlement’, The Law Times Reports of Cases Decided, September 1903–February 1904, vol. 89, pp. 691–4.

  4. The Times, 3 March 1908, p. 2.

  5. Settled Land Act 1882. An Act for facilitating Sales, Leases, and other dispositions of Settled Land, and for promoting the execution of improvements thereon’, Section 37, ‘Heirlooms’; (accessed 29 January 2019).

  6. The Law Times, 13 February 1904, p. 694.

  7. The Daily Telegraph, 8 December 1903, p. 4.

  8. The Law Times, 13 February 1904, p. 692. See also The Daily Telegraph, 8 December 1903, p. 4, which carried an account of Colonel Townshend’s objections.

  9. The Law Times, 13 February 1904, p. 694.

  10. Alfred Thompson, ‘Statesman No. 42. “The Beggar’s friend”’, Vanity Fair, 26 February 1870, p. 120. As it was stated in Vanity Fair, ‘He is the prey of impostors, his generous efforts produce much lasting harm with only a little transient good, he is thwarted and laughed at by glib respectability, but he is a refreshing phenomenon in a selfish age, for he is the Beggar’s friend.’

  11. See The Standard, 3 March 1908, p. 9; The Times, 11 March 1908, p. 18.

  12. Evening News and Evening Mail, 2 March 1908, p. 1; 10 March 1908, p. 1. Details of the early association of Lord Raynham and Arthur Geoffrey Robins can be gleaned from witness statements in the court case of 1908, ‘Re Townshend’s Settled Trusts (Marquess v. Robins )’, when the 6th Marquess sought to remove Robins from the trusteeship of the deed of resettlement of the Townshend estates of 1888, and a further deed of settlement of February 1903, under which a number of heirlooms were brought into the settlement.

  13. The Marchioness Townshend of Raynham, It Was – And it Wasn’t, London: John Long Ltd, 1937, p. 26.

  14. The Standard, 3 and 11 March 1908. Frances Cashel Hoey (1830–1908) was an Irish novelist and journalist. She herself denied in a written statement to the court that she had played a role in introducing Lord Townshend to Robins: The Times, 13 March 1908, p. 19.

  15. The Times, 11 March 1908, p. 18.

  16. The Guardian, 13 December 1899, p. 1752: ‘Ecclesiastical Intelligence. Preferments and Appointments. Robins, Rev. Arthur Geoffrey. A.K.C., Vicar of St. Barnabas, Holbeck, Leeds; Chaplain to the Marquis Townshend. Patron, the Marquis Townshend’.

  17. The Standard, 12 March 1908, p. 10.

  18. Marchioness Townshend, 1937, p. 26.

  19. Evening News and Evening Mail, 1 March 1908, p. 1. Frances Fetherstonhaugh Townshend Ridsdale was born 17 June 1878. Both Frances Ridsdale and the 6th Marquess were descended from Lord John Townshend (1757–1833), the father of the 4th Marquess. The 6th Marquess was descended from the 4th Marquess, while Frances Ridsdale was descended from Lord John Townshend’s sister, Audrey Harriet Townshend (1788–1873), who had married the Reverend Robert Ridsdale (1791–1876), the father of the Reverend George Ridsdale (1827–1905), the vicar of St Martin’s, South Raynham. Information obtained from ‘RidsdaleOne Name Study’, (accessed 28 January 2019).

  20. For Lord Townshend’s appeal against the Bishop of Norwich’s decision, which was withdrawn, see ‘Marquis of Townshend [sic] v Bishop of Norwich’, Court of Appeal under the Benefices Act 1898, NA, Supreme Court of Judicature, 1901, J 142/1.

  21. Register of births, Walsingham, Norfolk, 1901, 2nd quarter, vol. 4B, p. 280. On the birth certificate, the maiden name of the mother was given as ‘Dashwood’. Robins’s wife, whom he had married on 18 January 1892, was Mary Susan Dashwood (1868–1967), daughter of Thomas Alexander Dashwood (1826–1909), barrister, and Justice of the Peace for Hertfordshire.

  22. Evening News and Evening Mail, 1 March 1908, p. 1.

  23. The Times, 4 March 1908, p. 19; 5 March 1908, p. 3. Information about the details of the disposal of the Townshend china, and related objects, is taken from various newspaper reports on the court case, ‘Re Townshend’s Settled Trusts (Marquess Townshend v. Robins)’, High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, 2–13 March 1908.

  24. The Times, 5 March 1908, p. 3, and 6 March 1908, p. 18. Among the named purchasers of the china were George Cubitt, a dealer in antiques and modern furniture, located at Hercules and Samson House, Tombland, Norwich, and a dealer named Flack, who had an antique shop in Worthing. Another dealer, named Morton Codman, of the Old Curiosity Shop, Walsingham, purchased items from the lumber room, including a piece of tapestry, ‘from what was known as the Princess Room’. The tapestry, otherwise unidentified, measured approximately 8 by 10 feet, and had been consigned to the lumber room some years earlier, as the tenant wanted it removed from the Princess Room in order to open a window.

  25. The Times, 4 March 1908, p. 19.

  26. In the court case of 1908, ‘The Marquis Townshend v. Robins’, G. S. Sedgwick, a picture dealer based in Chelsea, who had been invited to Raynham Hall to view items from the collection, and who subsequently purchased china in Worthing, stated that Robins had informed him that the china and Chippendale furniture were not included among the heirlooms; The Times, 10 March 1908, p. 3.

  27. Evening News and Mail, 10 March 1908, p. 1.

  28. For an account of the court case see the Evening Express, 24 February 1905, p. 3,; see also The New Zealand Herald, vol. 42, issue 12836, 8 April 1905, For further information on Sheffield’s biography, including her membership of the esoteric cult the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, see (all sources accessed 28 January 2019).

  29. Robins and Holdsworth were appointed trustees of the resettlement on the retirement of Lord St Levan, by a deed executed by Lord Townshend on 17 February 1903; see The Times, 3 March 1908, p. 2.

  30. The Standard, 10 August 1906, p. 7; The Times, 11 March 1908, p. 18. Robins denied that he had suggested his own appointment as a trustee, although it is apparent that he was in the habit of drafting Lord Townshend’s letters, and almost certainly did so on this occasion.

  31. This cup, one of three Bacon cups, was also known as the Stiffkey or ‘Stewkey’ cup. It passed from Sir Nicholas Bacon to his son, Nathaniel, whose eldest daughter and heir married Sir John Townshend (d. 1603) of Raynham Hall.

  32. The cups, lots 44 and 45 in the 1904 sale, were sold by Sotheby’s, 17 October 2018 (19); see (accessed 5 February 2019).

  33. The complete auction catalogue can be consulted online at

  34. The Times, 10 December 1903, p. 5.

  35. The Standard, 7 March 1904, p. 6.

  36. For an account of Salvator Rosa’s Belisarius, its acquisition by the 2nd Viscount Townshend and its reception in England more generally, see Helen Langdon, ‘Salvator Rosa’s Belisarius; A journey from Rome to Norfolk’, (accessed 11 February 2019).

  37. It was acquired by Osbert Sitwell in 1947, who installed it in the ballroom at Renishaw Hall, near Sheffield. See also Luigi Salerno, L’opera completa di Salvator Rosa, Milan: Rizzoli, 1975, no. 110.

  38. Romney’s portrait of Georgiana Anne, Lady Townshend, was sold by Christie’s, 11 June 2002 (31) for the comparatively low sum of £21,510.

  39. The Times, 7 March 1904, p. 15.

  40. See ibid.

  41. Gainsborough’s portrait of Robert Adair is now in the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Hoppner portrait was acquired at a later date by an American collector, Arthur J. Secor, who gifted it to the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, from which it was deaccessioned and sold by Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2014 (281), for $6250.

  42. Elizabeth Einberg, on the authority of the Art Journal, noted that Hogarth’s portrait of Quin was probably with Thomas Gwennap of Lower Brook Street, London, by 1817, and possibly among the portraits of Quin owned by the actor Charles Mathews: Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 195, no. 116, citing The Art Journal, May 1904, p. 156. However, George, 1st Marquess Townsend, who was a friend of Quin and featured him in one of his caricatures, may perhaps have acquired the portrait at an earlier date.

  43. The Illustrated London News, 19 March 1904, p. 1.

  44. See Algernon Graves, ‘Sir Joshua Reynolds at the Townshend sale’, The Printseller and Collector, vol. 2, 1904, pp. 135–41.

  45. David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 446–8, nos 1764, 1759 and 1765; vol. 2, figs 1293, 857 and 1095.

  46. The Times, 10 December 1903, p. 5. For details of the Reynolds portrait of Anne, Marchioness Townshend see Mannings and Postle, 2000, vol. 1, p. 445, no. 1756; vol. 2, fig. 1315.

  47. The Times, 25 January 1904, p. 2; see also The Illustrated London News, 12 March 1904.

  48. The Daily Chronicle, 27 February 1904. The reward was placed by D. Albert Davies, a solicitor based at 2 Church Road, Hove, employed evidently by Robins to represent Lord Townshend. In a follow-up article in The Daily Chronicle, dated 29 February, Davies explained that the missing pictures had been at Balls Park, from which all the valuable paintings were supposed to have been removed to Raynham Hall. Lord Townshend, he stated, had been shown the portraits at Balls Park by his father when he was about ‘fourteen or fifteen years of age’. Davis, who valued the portraits at £20,000 for the pair, added that ‘he had recourse to advertising, with the idea that that some servant who had been in the employ of the Townshend family might come forward and help to clear up the mystery’. The other missing painting mentioned was identified as Lady Charlotte Compton (1727–1770), first wife of the 1st Marquess, although no portrait of her by Reynolds is known to exist. However, a half-length of Charlotte Compton, since identified as being by Thomas Hudson, was included in the 1904 sale, lot 35.

  49. Henry Graves apparently purchased the portrait of Anne, Marchioness Townshend, from her grandson and sold it to Robert Townley Parker of Cuerdon Hall, Preston, Lancashire. A hint as to its whereabouts at the time of the 1904 sale was provided by the Art Journal, which stated that the picture ‘is said to be in the keeping of a member of the sitter’s family, she having bequeathed it to a relative’; The Art Journal, May 1904, p. 155.

  50. Mannings and Postle, 2000, vol. 1, p. 445, no. 1756.

  51. ‘Portrait of Anne Montgomery, Marchioness of Townshend [sic]. In a white dress, with red cloak, standing in a landscape. 33 by 20 in.’, Townshend Heirlooms sale, 5 March 1904 (2). As noted by the Art Journal, in reference to this work, ‘Pastels by Sir Joshua are relatively scarce, very few are traceable at auction, and the price is a notable one’: The Art Journal, May 1904, p. 155.

  52. Kneller, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 3623.

  53. Kneller’s portrait of Elizabeth Pelham, lot 84 in the 1904 sale, was purchased by Colnaghi for £99 15s. It was sold by Sotheby’s, 4 July 2013 (121), for £30,000.

  54. Royal Academy, London, Exhibition of works by The Old Masters, and by deceased masters of the British School, 6 January 1890 to 15 March 1890, nos 177, 179–84, pp. 38–41; (accessed 22 February 2019).

  55. Townshend Heirlooms sale, March 1904, lots 174 (George II), 175 (Queen Caroline), 176 (Queen Anne), 180 (James II), 187 (Anne Hyde).

  56. The Times, 8 March 1904, p. 6.

  57. The Art Journal, May 1904, p. 157.

  58. Sotheby’s, London, 5 December 2018 (29 and 30). It is uncertain when the portraits were acquired by the Townshends, although it may have been immediately after the Restoration, when Sir Horatio Townshend had played an active role in escorting Charles II back to England from the Netherlands. The pictures had been identified as by Mytens in an inventory at Raynham of 1810: ‘A pair of Whole Length PORTRAITS of Chas. II and his Sister, by Mytens £21.0.0’; James Durham, The Collection of Pictures at Raynham Hall, Being 3 Annotated Catalgues under the following dates:– 1810, the Property of George, 2nd Marquis Townshend, Earl of Leicester, 1904, the Property of John James Dudley Stuart, 6th Marquess Townshend, and 1926, the Property of George, 7th Marquis Townshend, [publisher not identified], 1926, p. 5.

  59. The Times, 3 March 1904, p. 15.

  60. ‘Country House Treasures’, The Spectator, 12 March 1904, pp. 407–8.

  61. Brassey purchased the following lots: 38, 41, 43, 44, 49, 57, 75, 166 and 180; see n. 33 above for details.

  62. Brassey, who was then living at the neo-Jacobean Preston Hall in Kent, offered to purchase Apethorpe in November 1903. The sale was completed the following April; see Kathryn A. Morrison, Apethorpe: The Story of an English Country House, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 298–9.

  63. Faudel-Phillips purchased the following lots: 11, 34, 82, 169, 177 and possibly 36; see n. 33 above for details.

  64. Murray purchased the following lots: 5, 78, 80, 172 and 173; see n. 33 above for details.

  65. On Benson’s death, the pictures passed to his daughter, Margaret Winifred Benson, who married Major-General Sir Hereward Wake, 13th Bt. The pictures were transferred to the Wake country seat, Courteenhall, Northamptonshire. See Arthur Oswald, ‘Courteenhall – II, Northamptonshire, Seat of Major-General Sir Hereward Wake’, Country Life, 19 August 1939, pp. 172–6.

  66. For further biographical information on Colonel Townshend see Erroll Sherson, Townshend of Chitral and Kut: Based on the Diaries and Private Papers of Major-General Sir Charles Townshend, London: William Heinemann, 1928; A. J. Barker, Townshend of Kut, London: Cassell, 1967; N. S. Nash, Chitral Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Major General Charles Townshend, Uckfield: Naval and Military Press Ltd, 2010.

  67. Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, diary entry, 30 November 1895, cited in Norfolk in World War One. Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, Part 1: 1861 – February 1896, (accessed 29th July 2020).

  68. See ibid., Part 2, (accessed 29th July 2020).

  69. Many of Colonel Townshend’s purchases were recorded by Sir Ellis Waterhouse in his annotated copy of the second volume of Prince Frederick Duleep Singh’s copy of Portraits in Norfolk Houses, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. See also Rev. Edmund Farrer, ed., Portraits in Norfolk Houses by the late Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, 2 vols, Norwich: Jarrold and Sons, Limited, 1927, pp. 198–223, (accessed 4 March 2019).

  70. The following thirty lots in the 1904 Heirlooms sale are all recorded as having been at one time in the ownership of Colonel Townshend or his wife: 12, 23, 25, 27, 28, 29, 31, 35, 58, 59, 62, 64, 66, 71, 72, 84, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 95, 97, 140, 161, 162, 170, 178, 179; see n. 33 above for details.

  71. The Gainsborough, Hoppner and Reynolds featured in Colonel Townshend’s sale at Christie’s, London, 13 July 1923 (130–2). The presence of the portrait of Sir Edward Vere is mentioned in an annotation by James Durham, brother-in-law of the 6th Marquess, on the typescript catalogue of the 1904 sale, ‘Now at Vere Lodge, Raynham’, Raynham Hall Archives. The annotation may have been made in October 1913, the date inscribed by Durham on the front page of the typescript.

  72. James Durham provided the locations of the paintings in the Cahen d’Anvers properties in his typescript; see ibid.

  73. Full-length portraits by Reynolds acquired by Ferdinand de Rothschild included Mrs Abington, Anne, Duchess of Cumberland, Lady Jane Halliday, Mrs Lloyd, Captain John Hayes St Leger and Thaïs; see Mannings and Postle, 2000, nos 28, 804, 879, 1137, 1713, 2167.

  74. Sums are provided in the annotated copy of the Townshend Heirlooms picture sale, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London.

  75. Cited in The Standard, 25 July 1906.

  76. Lady Townshend, 1937, p. 11. Lady Townshend also noted of her father, Thomas Sutherst: ‘He was extremely good looking in a florid style, a typical Yorkshireman, but, unlike the generality of Yorkshiremen, his imagination soared beyond the confines of Yorkshire, and he aimed to bestride this narrow world like a Colossus’.

  77. Sutherst had first made his name as a campaigning barrister on behalf of female shop workers, with the publication in 1884 of his book Death and Disease Behind the Counter. He was also instrumental a few years later in the organisation of the first trade union for bus and tram employees. For details on Sutherst’s more dubious role in the arranged marriage of his daughter to the 6th Marquess Townshend see Frank Wright JP, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, The Inner Temple Yearbook, 2013–14, pp. 112–14.

  78. It is perhaps of interest, in the context of the present narrative, that the officiating curate at the wedding was Harold Davidson, who had trained for the priesthood with Robins. In 1906, owing to Robins’s influence, he was presented the living of Stiffkey, Norfolk by Lord Townshend. Davidson subsequently gained notoriety as the so-called ‘Prostitutes’ Padre’. After he was defrocked on grounds of immorality, Davidson worked as a showman, meeting his death in a lion’s cage in Skegness in 1937. For a modern biography of Davidson see Jonathan Tucker, The Troublesome Priest: Harold Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey, Norwich: Michael Russell Publishing, 2007.

  79. For the petition of April 1906 relating to the Commissions and Inquisitions of Lunacy, see NA C211/68/16, ‘6 Edward VII: Marquess Townshend, The Most Hon, John: of 45 Brook Street, London’.

  80. The inquiry into the mental health of Marquess Townsend opened on 24 July 1906 at Lincoln’s Inn Old Hall, instituted at the request of the Masters of Lunacy. It concluded on 11 August. Extensive reports of the proceedings were published throughout the inquiry in several newspapers, notably The Standard, The Times and The Evening News.

  81. The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1908, p. 7.

  82. The London Gazette, 1 September 1908, p. 6419. Robins was recorded as ‘lately residing at 70, Hove-villas, Hove, in the county of Sussex’.

  83. Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890–1960: for details see (accessed 17 December 2019). Also on board the ship with ‘Mr A Robins’ were ‘M Robins’ (his wife, Mary), ‘HD Robins’ (his son, Henry), and ‘AP Robins’ (his son, Arthur Pritchard Robins).

  84. See Record Transcription: Victoria Deaths 1836–1985, Registration number 10792.

  85. For Mary Robins see (accessed 17 December 2019).

  86. Sutherst boarded the Lusitania in New York on 1 May 1915. Information relating to his passage can be found at (accessed 17 December 2019). His body was never recovered, although Lady Townsend was told later by a survivor that he had been seen giving his life-belt to a woman and her baby: Townshend, 1937, p. 57. Sutherst had been separated from his wife for many years.

  87. Townshend, 1937, p. 57.

  88. Ibid., p. 38.

  89. Mirte Terpstra, ‘Gwladys, Marchioness of Townshend’, in Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal and Monica Dall’Asta, eds, Women Film Pioneers Project, New York: Columbia University Libraries, 2013; (accessed 17 December 2019).

  90. Evening News, 16 May 1916, p. 2.

  91. The Washington Post, 17 September 1916, p. 3.

  92. ‘Major-General Townshend, the gallant defender of Kut-el-Amara since his force fell back on that place on December 9, 1915, is fifty-four, and is heir-presumptive to the Marquessate of Townshend . . . At the time of writing, the relief force is advancing steadily nearer to the besieged town’; The Illustrated London News, 22 April 1916, p. 513.

  93. Gwladys Ethel Gwendolen Eugenia Sutherst Townshend and Maude ffoulkes, True Ghost Stories, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1936; see also Townshend, 1937, pp. 64–7.

  94. The photo shoot took place on 19 September 1936 and the article itself appeared in Country Life on 26 December 1936. For a detailed account of the famous photograph and the suggested true identity of the photographers-cum-fakers see Roger J. Morgan, ‘The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall Photograph’, (accessed 17 December 2019).



by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "The Curious Case of the Townshend Heirlooms Sale", Art and the Country House,