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25 YEARS OF SECRET SERVICE - William Hunter Jun.r Messenger in Ordinary to His Majesty

William Hunter, Junior
Manuscript record of a quarter century of secret service by a member of the Corps of King’s Home Service Messengers during the Napoleonic Wars. S… Read more
Published in 1795 by -.
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25 YEARS OF SECRET SERVICE - William Hunter Jun.r Messenger in Ordinary to His Majesty by William Hunter, Junior

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Manuscript record of a quarter century of secret service by a member of the Corps of King’s Home Service Messengers during the Napoleonic Wars.

Small quarto (16.5x20.5cm) covering the quarter century 1795-1822 bound in discoloured vellum with the single word ‘Home’ on a decorative red morocco label to the upper cover. According to Wheeler-Holohan’s History of the King’s Messengers this manuscript would have been prepared by William Hunter’s ‘personal agent’ who ‘drew the salaries of the members [of the Corps], and, above all, made up their accounts.’ The manuscript uses Britannia water-marked paper, ruled with red margins. The first page reads: ‘William Hunter Jun.r Messenger in Ordinary to His Majesty.’ (Wheeler-Holohan notes Hunter’s appointment to the Corps in July 1794 in his Roll of the Kings Messengers, p277). The manuscript title page has a closed tear rising from the tail of the page about 5 cm and old stains, similar wear to the final end-paper, otherwise very good internally. The quarterly entries run to around 90 pages over 51 leaves with a similar number of terminal blanks. The format is similar throughout with Hunter’s name and title preceding a summary of his tasks over the quarter in question which includes dates, places and his claim for expenses and any additional comments. The first record amounts to just 5 trips between Windsor and Whitehall at a cost to the government of £21.17.0, ‘ending January 5th, 1796’. Over time these accounts became much more detailed - and lucrative with the most expensive of Hunter’s account running to more than £100. Records of the Corps of Kings Messengers are rare institutionally and largely unheard of in commerce.

The fascination of this manuscript lies in its insight into one of the most secretive roles in early modern British government as performed by messengers ‘appointed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs... carefully picked men [who] carry secret papers from Whitehall to persons in London and the country’ (Wheeler-Holohan, p ix). From the beginning of his service as witnessed by this manuscript Wheeler was carrying secret papers between the government and King George III at Windsor Castle: ‘November 1 [1795] Sent in a Chaise to Windsor and back - 3.15.8.’ Through the 1790s other destinations included the King’s favourite watering spot on the south coast, Weymouth, and a sequence of increasingly complex journeys as in July 1797: ‘Dispatched in a Chaise to Nottingham, thence by Shipley Markheaton, Dulwich, Derby, and Newark to Lincoln then to Stamford & Uppingham, and back to Stamford.... being 411 Miles at S[hillings]. 6 To 45 Stages... and Turnpikes - £30.16.6.’ Hunter only ventured abroad infrequently though he took documents to Yarmouth (May 1798) where he hired a boat, presumably to take items on board a ship moored there; and he made a visit via Hollyhead in Wales ‘from London to Dublin & back’ on May 1 1799, noting his requirement of ‘an extra Pair of Horses in going, being 277 miles’ and ‘an Additional Postillion 27 Stages at 2s per Stage and Turnpikes. £3.0.9.’ Bulstrode, where the King’s favourite Mary Delany lived, became a regular destination for Hunter in the late 1790s as well as Cambridge, Kensington (Palace), Salisbury, Battle in Sussex and the King’s Observatory at Richmond. From around 1802, around the time of the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars, Hunter seems to have been especially busy and his trips are more precisely itemised, possibly in the hand of a different agent. From 1804 Coombe House and Addiscombe, homes of Lord Liverpool (later Home Secretary and from 1812 Prime Minister) became regular destinations for Hunter, then, with the emergence of Henry Addington, (Home Secretary 1812-1817), his residences start to appear in Hunter’s accounts. It is notable that Hunter’s only trips with prisoners around 1817-1820 coincided with a period of civil unrest that culminated in the Peterloo Massacre: ‘Dispatched with a Prisoner and an Assistant from Whitehall to Hertford: being 25 Miles at 2s 3d per Mile - £2.16.3.’ (July 5 1817) with him making additional charges for prisoners’ subsistence. Hunter’s busiest quarter during his entire services as a Messenger came in August when he accompanied King George IV on his trip to Scotland - the first made by a reigning British monarch in 200 years. Hunter’s movements with the King and the new Home Secretary Robert Peel occupy 2 and a half minutely detailed pages of the manuscript as they criss-crossed Scotland in their trip ‘from Whitehall by Manchester and Carlisle to Edinburgh’, visiting Leith and ‘To Beathrie at Newhaven on board the Tourist Steam Vessel and Expences in the landing of Baggage and conveyance of same to Edinburgh and Melville Castle’ with the crucial addition of ‘Extra Board Wages during my Attendance on The Right Hon.ble Robert Peel from the 4th of August to the 4th of September: being 32 days...’ This proved to be Hunter’s swan-song as only one further quarter’s activity is recorded. Wheeler-Holohan records that he died in 1835.


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Added under Manuscript
Publisher -
Date published 1795
Subject 1 Manuscript
Signed Yes
Product code 7892


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