William Bassett Chinnery (1766-1827)
William Bassett Chinnery was born in London, son of a family of writing masters. He was the eldest surviving son of William Chinnery Jnr, writing master, of St Bride¬?s parish and Elizabeth his wife (n√©e Stacy). His youngest brother was George Chinnery, the nineteenth-century portrait and landscape artist. Thanks to influential patronage William became a chief clerk (1799) in the British Treasury and also agent for the Bahamas, for New South Wales and other colonies. On 21 October 1790 he married Margaret Tresilian at St Luke¬?s Chelsea, and they had three children. After his marriage he indulged his passion for collecting antiquities. In 1812 he was found guilty of defrauding the Government of over ¬£80,000 and dismissed from his post. The sale of his collection attracted some of the most prominent connoisseurs in the kingdom. He fled to Sweden and later to France where he remained for the rest of his life. In France he eventually settled in Le Havre where he went into a wine, coffee and tea business (Cary & Co.) which ultimately failed in 1823. He owned various properties, including Gillwell Park in Essex, which had been settled on his wife Margaret by her father at the time of their marriage. Gillwell Park was sold in 1813 to help repay his debt to the Government. William Chinnery died in Paris on 3 March 1827 and was buried by his wife in a vault in the P√®re Lachaise cemetery. When the vault was threatened with destruction in 2000 his remains, along with those of his wife and a grand-niece, were repatriated to England and the ashes scattered at Gilwell Park in August 2002. (Today Gilwell is owned by the Scout Association and is spelt with three ¬?l¬?s.)
Margaret Chinnery (1766?-1840)
Margaret Chinnery (n√©e Tresilian) was born on 16 October and baptised at All Saints, Fulham on 13 November 1766. She was the eldest of the three daughters of Leonard Tresilian, mercer, of Covent Garden and Margaret his wife (n√©e Holland). Her grandfather had also been a mercer in the same parish, and her uncle was the famous architect Henry Holland. Six years after her marriage she moved her family out of London to Gillwell, and three years later the Italian violinist G.B. Viotti joined the household, remaining with the family for the rest of his life. Margaret was a highly accomplished musician, fluent in French and Italian, who educated her children at Gillwell using the rigorous method of the French educationist Mme de Genlis. Prior to her husband¬?s dismissal from Treasury she entertained lavishly at Gillwell, receiving mostly musicians and poets at weekend music parties. Among her closest friends were the Duke of Cambridge (George III¬?s youngest son), and William Robert Spencer, as well as other prominent members of society. She had several prominent French friends, too, among whom Mme de Genlis, Mme Vig√©e-Lebrun, Mme de Boigne and the composer Luigi Cherubini and his wife. After William's disgrace and her daughter¬?s death in 1812 she withdrew from society for a short while, then resumed entertaining in her London home for the sake of her son George¬?s connections. Viotti resided with her. From 1814 she and Viotti paid summer visits to her husband in France, and in 1819 she purchased a property at Ch√Ętillon in the countryside near Paris. She managed the Chinnery family affairs from the time of William's departure from England, and those of Viotti after his death. She died in Paris on 5 November 1840, and was buried with her husband in the P√®re Lachaise cemetery. In 2002 her remains were repatriated to England with William¬?s and with those of young grand-niece Hodgson (1824-1834), whom Margaret was educating in France when the child died.
Caroline Chinnery (1791-1812)
Born on 3 September and baptised on 15 December 1791, Caroline Chinnery was the daughter of William and Margaret Chinnery, twin sister of George Robert and older sister of Walter. Taught by her mother and by G.B. Viotti, she was an accomplished pianist, harpist and singer, often performing in private society concerts, sometimes for royalty. Viotti was like a father to her. She also had a very close relationship with William Robert Spencer, who referred to her as his niece, and who exchanged verses with her. She died on 3 April 1812 at the age of 20, after a long struggle with whooping cough, although her death was from miliary tuberculosis. It was probably hastened by a series of late nights at the Prince Regent¬?s Pavilion at Brighton at the end of 1811. Caroline was buried in a vault in Waltham Abbey Church, where her younger brother Walter had been laid to rest ten years earlier. A memorial monument to both children still stands in the north aisle.
George Robert Chinnery (1791-1825)
Born on 3 September and baptised on 15 December 1791, George Robert Chinnery was the son of William and Margaret Chinnery, twin brother of Caroline and older brother of Walter. He was educated firstly at home by his mother and tutors, then from the age of 16 at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated with first class honours in mathematics and third class honours in classics. In 1810 he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, and read his poem and his enc√¶nia verses in the Sheldonian Theatre at the Installation of the new University Chancellor the same year. An accomplished linguist, he knew six modern languages, as well as the usual Greek and Latin. He took a lifelong interest in the arts and letters. He held a post in the British Treasury from 1812 to 1823. In 1814 he became the prot√©g√© of ex-Foreign Secretary George Canning, whom he joined in Portugal in 1815, and accompanied on tours of the Continent in 1819 and 1820. In 1824, when Canning was again Foreign Secretary, George was sent to Spain as Resident Commissioner in Madrid for the Liquidation of British Claims on the Spanish Government. He died in Madrid in October 1825.
Walter Grenfell Chinnery (1793-1802)
Born on 23 April and baptised on 19 June 1793, Walter Chinnery was the youngest child of William and Margaret Chinnery. He was educated at Gillwell with his siblings, and is mentioned in Margaret Chinnery's Journal. He died at the age of nine on 19 November 1802, shortly after returning from a visit to Paris with his family. There was a virulent epidemic of influenza in Paris that winter, and it was the probable cause of his death. He was buried in Waltham Abbey Church in the same vault as his sister Caroline. A memorial monument to him stands in the north aisle.
Matilda Margretta Chinnery (1797-1877)
Matilda Margretta Chinnery was the daughter of John Chinnery (William Bassett's brother) and Mary his wife (n√©e Payton). She was the eldest of their four children. Born in Madras, India, she arrived in London in 1800, and was taken into the care of William and Margaret Chinnery. Educated at Gillwell by Margaret Chinnery, she was an accomplished pianist. After the sale of Gillwell she continued to reside with Margaret and Viotti until leaving England in 1821 to marry Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Samuel Irton Hodgson (1784-1836) in Madras in 1822. The young couple then moved to Bangalore where Capt Hodgson had command of the 49th Regiment of Native Infantry. They had four children, not counting one who died in infancy. It was their eldest child, a daughter, who died in France in 1834 and was buried in the Chinnery vault in the P√®re Lachaise cemetery. Matilda herself died on 21 April 1877.
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824)
Performer, composer and teacher, Viotti was one of the most influential violinists in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He is generally held to be the father of modern violin playing, his pupils and disciples having disseminated his method throughout Europe. Viotti was born on 12 May 1755 in Fontanetto Po, near Turin. His talent was fostered by Gaetano Pugnani, who accompanied his young prodigy on a performing tour of the Continent in 1780-82. On his arrival in Paris in March 1782 Viotti created a sensation with his playing at the Concert Spirituel, and it was in this city that 19 of his 29 violin concertos were composed (between 1782 and 1792). In Paris he established a new opera house called the Th√©√Ętre de Monsieur (after July 1791, Th√©√Ętre Feydeau) where he worked in close collaboration with Luigi Cherubini, his friend and colleague.
In 1792 the Revolution forced him to flee to London, where he continued to perform. He was the featured violinist in Salomon's series of concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms, 1793-94. He also performed at the Bath Easter concerts organised by Rauzzini in 1794 (see present letters) and continued to perform in London until he was expelled from England as an enemy alien in 1798.
He was probably back in England and living at Gillwell, where he was known affectionately as 'Amico', by the end of 1799. He usually referred to Margaret Chinnery as 'l'Amica' and to William Chinnery as 'Chin'. He remained with Margaret after William Chinnery¬?s flight from England, and indeed until the end of his life. After joining the Chinnery household he retired from his musical career, playing only for friends in private. In 1797 he went into partnership with the Chinnery friend Charles Smith in a wine business, which failed in 1818. After 1812 Viotti also helped and encouraged William Chinnery in his various trading ventures on the Continent. In 1813 he was one of the founding members of the London Philharmonic Society, and performed in their concerts each year from 1813 to 1815. He was a director of the Society until 1817.
From 1814 he spent the summer-autumn of each year on the Continent with Margaret, visiting William Chinnery. After the failure of his wine business he returned to Paris to take up the directorship of the Paris Opera (1819). The stress of this post took its toll, and he left France in 1823 to return to London, where he died in debt in the rented house of Margaret Chinnery in Upper Berkeley Street on 3 March 1824.
William Robert Spencer (1769-1834)
Known in London society as a poet and a wit, William Robert Spencer was the younger son of Lord Charles Spencer, second son of the third Duke of Marlborough. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating in 1786, but taking no degree. In 1791 he married Susan, widow of Count Spreti and daughter of Count Francis Jenison-Walworth. They had 5 sons and 2 daughters. He was Commissioner of Stamps from 1797-1825, when, in straitened circumstances, he left England to reside in France. A popular society figure, a member of the Dilettante and other fashionable societies, Spencer was on close terms with the Prince of Wales and other royal family members, various members of Government, literary figures including Sheridan, Scott, Byron, and Thomas Moore, and many musicians, especially Viotti, who was a dear friend.
Spencer resided intermittently at Gillwell, 1807-1811, where he was treated as a family member and was affectionately known as 'Guglielmo'. He was the conduit by which George Chinnery entered Christ Church, and he made all the necessary introductions on George¬?s arrival at Oxford. He also had a close relationship with Caroline Chinnery, whom he taught Latin and prosody. Spencer's own witty verses were written in French, Italian and Latin, as well as English, and he had the knack of being able to turn any trite domestic occurrence into humorous verse. His Poems were published in 1811 (republished 1835), and the manuscripts of many of these survive in the present collection. He died in poverty in Paris on 24 October 1834.