JEFFERYS, Nathaniel (?1758-1810), of Pall Mall, Mdx. and East Cliff Lodge, nr. Ramsgate, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. ?1758, o.s. of Nathaniel Jefferys, cutler and goldsmith to the Queen,1 of Beaufort Buildings, Strand, Westminster, and Worcester by w. Elizabeth. educ. Cheam. m. c.1783, da. and h. of a London merchant, 1s.,2 das. suc. fa. 1786.
Jefferys’s father appeared in the London directories as a goldsmith in the Strand (1770) and he himself was apprenticed at the age of 14 to his uncle Jefferys, a silversmith and goldsmith at Cockspur Street, Charing Cross. In 1783, having been given nearly £4,000 by his father for the purpose, he set up in business as jeweller to the Duke of York and goldsmith, at the corner of Dover Street, Piccadilly. A few days later the Prince of Wales became a customer of his. ‘I imagined my fortune made by his smile’, he wrote later. In 1789 the Prince gave up his chief jeweller Gray, who had been pressing him to pay his bills, in favour of Jefferys, who also enjoyed the patronage of others of the Prince’s set. ‘From this time, not a day passed for several years, in which, neglecting my general business, I did not spend half my time at Carlton House, and in which some entries were not made in my books of large amounts for goods sold to his Royal Highness.’ In 1790 he paid a bill of £1,600 to oblige Mrs Fitzherbert, which was repaid after three months, though he claimed that she was mortified at having to repay and never paid him a debt of £120. At the same time the Duchess of Devonshire owed him £3,000 for diamonds, which she thought an excessive demand. In 1792, while at Brussels on his annual summer jaunt on the Continent, Jefferys heard that the Duke of York was getting married in Berlin and hastened there to get his order.3 In 1795 the Prince of Wales ordered £50,000 worth of jewels for his intended bride and £9,000 worth for the other royal ladies on the occasion of his marriage. With this order, Jefferys conceived that his fortune was made; but the Prince’s financial affairs having been entrusted to commissioners, he had to vindicate his claim in King’s bench. Ably defended by Thomas Erskine*, he secured the jury’s verdict for nearly £51,000 out of £54,685. While the commissioners dallied over payment, he was pressed by his own creditors. He had bought a town house in Mayfair and a marine villa built by Benjamin Bond Hopkins* and lived in style. Now that he had alienated his best client, he was forced to sell his stock in trade and the lease of his business premises, and for his own security ‘abandoned baubles for boroughs’.4
Jefferys proceeded to Coventry in May 1796, invited by William Wilberforce Bird* and encouraged by Sheridan, who could not resist styling him one ‘of the monied interest of the country’. He spent less than £4,000 by his own account (nearly £7,000 according to his opponents) in anticipation of a contest that petered out. He had to evade his creditors on the hustings, leaving others to open his correspondence and the sheriff to pay one of his debts. Once safely returned to Parliament, he learnt that the Prince’s commissioners required him to discount ten per cent. In 1797, without having received ‘sixpence’ from them, he went bankrupt, paying only 1s. 9d. in the £; about £3,500 in all. He talked familiarly of exposing his grievances publicly and supposed he might ‘get a place’ if he gave up his seat. He made ‘a great purchase of parliamentary records’ to ‘cut a brilliant figure’ in the House, but was out of his element there.5
He considered himself of the Prince’s party and voted steadily with opposition. On 19 May 1797 he briefly supported Combe’s motion for the dismissal of ministers as ‘worse could not be found’, claiming that it was his constituents’ wish. He had supported Whitbread’s censure motion on the naval mutiny on 10 May. On 5 June he defended ‘an honest and industrious manufacturer’ mistakenly arrested as an agitator among the mutinous sailors at Gravesend—but approved strong measures against the mutineers. He voted for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, but there was no question of his seceding with Fox. He praised William Windham, 24 Apr. 1798, for his consideration of the interests of French émigrés. On 26 Dec. 1798 he spoke in favour of the further suspension of habeas corpus at his constituents’ request and praised conditions in prisons he had visited up and down the country; but he opposed the further suspension in 1800 and 1801. On 1 May 1801 it became clear that Jefferys’s constituents’ did not always make unanimous requests, when he clashed with his colleague Bird over the Coventry poor relief bill he had brought in. On 24 October he denied a report that he would not offer again at Coventry.6
Meanwhile with the help of his wife’s family, who rescued him for her sake, Jefferys had crept back into business, first as an auctioneer and estate agent (1797) and then (against his better judgment) as a jeweller in Pall Mall. On 25 Oct. 1799 he had appealed to the Prince for his patronage. Nothing came of this and, still awaiting satisfaction from the commissioners, he wrote an offensive public letter of reproach to the Prince, 25 June 1801, concluding ‘my fortune has been ruined, my character discredited and my health broken with excessive anxiety’. On 4 Dec. 1801 he gave notice in the House of a motion on the civil list, aimed at the Prince, but on 18 Feb. following abandoned it, evidently with an assurance that the debt to him would be met. Manners Sutton’s motion, 31 Mar. 1802, which he supported, gave him an opportunity to tell his story in the House, and on 9 Apr. he wrote to the Prince, informing him that although he had not intended to stand again at Coventry, he would do so, unless the Prince named a friend, whom Jefferys was prepared to support in preference to himself. He added:
one of my principal inducements for having declin’d to offer myself as a candidate arose from the idea I thought the world might entertain that the situation of retail trade in which I am engaged was derogatory to a seat in Parliament. Such a prejudice, however, if it did prevail, no longer exists, as it is my intention in consequence of the impaired state of my health and insufficiency of capital to carry on my business, to withdraw from my present line of business, and engage in one of a more private nature and attended with less fatigue and anxiety.7
Jefferys survived a contest at Coventry in 1802, this time backed by the corporation against his former colleague Bird and the commonalty. He was also able to defend the petition against the return with subscribed help. On 7 Feb. 1803 he defended the town clerk in the House against a charge of impeding the petitioners’ quest for evidence; but on 11 Mar. 1803 he was unseated for want of a proper qualification. His was based on a trumpery conveyance by William Bryant of part of his estate at Shaftesbury, which was already sold. In his farewell address, 8 Mar. 1803, he claimed that he would not have stood again but for his supporters insistence, and would now retire in earnest. He took credit for the success of the local poor relief bill.8
Jefferys claimed to have lost £16,800 in the eventual settlement of his account with the Prince of Wales. He had been pressed to accept half the payment in debentures, which he had sold at a loss. He had protested at these terms but had been overruled by Erskine and Adam. Subsequently, he led a beggarly existence. When the Whigs were about to come to power in 1806, he wrote to the Prince, 26 Jan., asking him to pay the fee of 400 guineas for his only son to be an articled solicitor, and in March to Fox, Moira and Erskine, seeking a reward for his constant support of the party in the past.9 Moira warned him to desist, as his language to the Prince was now assuming felonious proportions, but Jefferys went on to write a pamphlet ‘exposing’ the Prince’s conduct, which went through nine editions in 1806 (he sold 6,050 copies at 3s. in a fortnight and said he ‘had yet more matter to bring forward’). This pamphlet gave great offence, provoking five or six indignant replies, which Jefferys sought to answer, and alienating Mrs Fitzherbert by the publicity it gave to her relations with the Prince, hearing of which he made matters worse by a public letter attacking her status.10 The Prince countenanced one of the replies and continued to ignore ‘Peeping Tom of Coventry’, who having made some money by retailing ‘scandal for the good of the nation’, wearied of being informed that his vanity had caused his ruin. After another bankruptcy, October 1806, he went back to estate agency, in partnership with one Samuel Osbourn, supplementing his meagre income by publishing edifying topographical descriptions of the Isle of Man (1808) and of Dublin (1810). In the preface to the first of these he announced the end of his vendetta with the Prince, referring to the latter’s ‘liberality’ to him, which suggests that he had received something from him. He died at Liverpool after a week’s illness, 3 Mar. 1810, aged 51. Fortunately his father-in-law, a man worth £50,000, had left Mrs Jefferys £8,000 secured for their children.11
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1786), i. 353; Diamond cut Diamond (1806), 3; PCC 226 Norfolk (his father’s will).
- 2. He was in his 18th year in Jan. 1806, A Review of the Conduct of the Prince of Wales (1806), 44. His mother was related to Newman Knowlys, recorder of London from 1803.
- 3. A Review, (see 10 below), 8-13, 17; Chatsworth mss, memo May 1791; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 601.
- 4. Annual Reg. (1796), 5; Morning Chron. 19 Feb., 6 May; True Briton, 8 Apr., 3, 25 May 1796; A Review, 21-26.
- 5. T. W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 217-18; Diamond cut Diamond, 39; A Refutation (1806), 17-18; An Antidote to Poison (1806), 53; True Briton, 22 June, 4 Nov. 1796; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), iii. 881, 885, 904.
- 6. The Times, 27 Oct. 1801.
- 7. A Review, 30, 36-40; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), v. 1754; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1621, 1638; An Antidote, 81, 93.
- 8. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), v. 1931; CJ, lviii. 251; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1804), i. 93; The Times, 14 Mar. 1803; A Review, 41.
- 9. A Review, 50-57.
- 10. A Review of the Conduct of the Prince of Wales, Facts are Stubborn Things and A Refutation were Jefferys's productions, as well as A Letter addressed to Mrs Fitzherbert. His critics wrote: Diamond cut Diamond and The Diamond New Pointed (which claims that Jefferys threatened to prosecute) by Philo-Veritas (i.e. T. Gilliland, an attorney pensioned by the Prince of Wales on whom see E. H. Baker, Lit. Anecdotes (1852), i. 89); An Antidote to Poison by Claudio; A Letter to N. Jefferys; A Complete Vindication of the Prince of Wales; Strictures on the conduct of N. Jefferys by Crito. Jefferys was defended by Diogenes (Rev.) J. H. Prince) in A Vindication of Mr Jefferys. The controversy ended with A Friendly letter to N. Jefferys (1808), which points the moral. All in BL (Tracts of N. Jefferys).
- 11. A description ... of the Isle of Man, xviii; Gent. Mag. (1810), i. 389; Farington, iii. 294.