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Tag Archives: Thomas Pitt

Lord Camelford: Gentleman Thug (Part One)

They say “Money doesn’t buy class.

This was certainly true of Thomas Pit, the 2nd Baron of Camelford; an obnoxious figure from the late 18th century who by all accounts was a thug, a bully and, as those at the time described him, a “desperate bruiser. 

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford

Pitt was born in Cornwall in 1775. His father, also called Thomas, owned property on Hanover Square and was a career politician who eventually gained a peerage to the House of Lords. 

The young Pitt was educated at Charterhouse School (which was then located close to Smithfield Market but has since moved to Surrey) but he soon grew bored of education and, against his father’s wishes, decided instead to pursue a career in the Royal Navy.

Aged just 16, Pitt signed up to join the crew of the HMS Discovery which had been tasked with exploring America’s Pacific coast. 

HMS Victory by Mark Mysers (from Blue World Web Museum)

During the long voyage Pitt proved to be quite a handful.

As well as smashing a delicate navigational device he also slept on duty, dabbled in illicit trade and pursued amorous liaisons with native islanders; activities which were strictly forbidden. 

For these misdemeanours the ship’s Captain, George Vancouver (after who the Canadian city is named), had Pitt flogged and was eventually forced to have him placed in irons.

Although harsh, such punishments were not unusual at the time and what appeared to infuriate Pitt most was the fact he was made to sit shackled alongside his more ‘common’ shipmates. 

A portrait by an unknown artist of a figure believed to be Captain George Vancouver (image: Wikipedia)

Unable to cope with such ruthless authority, Pitt was discharged whilst docked in Hawaii and had no other choice but to find his own way home.

Whilst away, his father died meaning the peerage was passed on; an inheritance which ensured the young tearaway was officially a Lord by the time he finally made it back to London. 

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In 1795 Captain Vancouver also returned to London. His expedition had been utterly gruelling- out of 153 men, only 6 had made it back.

Vancouver settled in Petersham, south-west London where he hoped to enjoy the view from Richmond Hill and pursue the quiet life: a simple desire which was soon blighted when Thomas Pitt discovered his old commander was back in town. 

The view from Richmond Hill (Google Street View)

Hellbent on revenge, the newly made Lord sent a letter to his former tormentor which was packed with insults and challenged him to a duel; a bout which he hoped would “Give him satisfaction for his injuries.

When Vancouver refused, Pitt vowed to track him down in person, finally succeeding in September 1796 when he cornered his nemesis on Conduit Street (which branches off of Regent Street )and administered a ferocious beating with a cane.

The attack, which became popular gossip in London after being satirised in a cartoon, left an already weakened Vancouver in very poor health and he passed away soon after.

Pitt however faced no repercussions, largely due to his privileged connections. 

‘The Caning on Conduit Street’: A satirical view of Lord Camelford’s attack on Captain Vancouver.

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Following this encounter, Pitt continued to exude a violent nature which struck fear in many Londoners.

He was especially fond of roaming the streets in search of potential crooks and troublemakers to rough up; a pastime known as ‘Boxing the Watch’.

In one incident he battered a tollgate keeper black and blue after claiming to have been given counterfeit pennies in change- a trifling sum for a man of such wealth. 

Pitt’s fearsome reputation was further bolstered by his dog, ‘Trusty’; a bull-terrier brutalised into becoming a champion fighting dog.

During his career, Trusty endured 104 bouts and remained unbeaten. Pitt later gifted his prized pet to ‘Fighting Jim Belcher’; the celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, explaining that “The only unconquered man was the only fit master for the only unconquered dog.”

Fortunately, it appears Trusty received kinder treatment from Jim and was able to live out his days in the Jolly Brewers, a former Wardour Street pub taken over by the boxer in his retirement. 

Portrait of Jim Belcher (by Benjamin Marshall), the boxer to who Lord Camelford gifted his dog ‘Trusty’- who can be seen in the background (image: Tate Gallery)

For Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford however there would be a great deal more violence, controversy and murder to follow…

To be continued…

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