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Mr Clark, A Caithness Remittance Man (by George Watson)

18th September 2014

Published in the Caithness Field Club Bulletin Vol 8 No. 1 - April 2013

Mr Clark, A Caithness Remittance Man (by George Watson)

The John O'Groat Journal, March 2nd 1836, carried the following obituary:-
"Died on 9th ultimo, at the house of Mr Sutherland of Bylbster parish of Watten in the County, Mr James Clark, generally believed to have been the husband of the late celebrated Mrs Mary Ann Clark remarkable for having acted such a conspicuous part during the trial of his Royal Highness the late Duke of York. Mr Clark has resided in this County for almost twenty years, but owing to his retiring habits, the circumstance of his being the person he was reported to have been, was not known to many in the immediate neighbourhood of his place of residence. A sum of money was regularly transmitted from the South to defray Mr Clark's expenses, but hitherto no clue has been discovered as to the motives which could have induced him to take up his abode in Caithness. He had for some time been addicted to intemperate habits, which together with the severe domestic misfortunes he had been subjected to, had visibly affected his mind. Mr Clark was by trade a tinsmith, but had discontinued his business from the time of his coming here. Several books it is said, were found in his possession, in which were written the name of "Mary Ann Clark".

Just over a hundred years later, Daphne Du Maurier, wrote a novel about her great-great-grandmother Mary Anne Clarke using fictional material to link historical events and personalities. From a humble beginning Mary Anne used her natural intelligence and charming personality to climb the social ladder, eventually becoming the mistress of the ‘Grand Old' Duke of York, who was at that time Commander in Chief of the British Army. Along the way, Mary Anne's husband had been encouraged to move out of London. In tracing his fate Du Maurier quotes the obituary in the John O’Groat Journal, with some minor changes; she calls him Joseph (not James) and gives his trade as a stone carver or mason (not a tinsmith). In fact she says he came to Caithness to find granite! Such discrepancies are understandable for the husband plays a very minor part in the main story which unfolds entirely in the south.

About 1805, when Britain was at war with France, the Duke found himself embroiled in scandal when it became known that various agents were introducing ambitious young officers to the Commander in Chief, in return for money. The politicians of the day made a meal of it. A Parliamentary Enquiry called those close to him, including Mary Anne Clarke, who almost certainly had been involved. As a courtesan she had spent her life accepting gifts from rich amorous admirers irrespective of their political persuasion. She realised that the politicians could not question her too closely, for fear of exposing the scandals of their own party. She ran rings round her interrogators with her witty but true answers which filled the London news sheets. It was about this time that the satirical rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York "marching his men up the hill," became popular.

It would be interesting to know how Du Maurier traced Clark’s obituary to ‘The Groat’. Did she follow a trail of regular payments made to Mr Clark from London to Bylbster. Even in death Mr Clark remains a mystery; while it is likely that he was buried locally at Watten or Wick, no headstone survives to mark his grave.

References.
(1) John O’Groat Journal, March 2nd 1836.
(2) Mary Anne, Daphne Du Maurier, 1955.
(3)Caithness Monumental Inscriptions Pre 1885. AS Cowper & I Ross, Vol 2, 1992. Parishes of Wick and Watten.

Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 2013 Index

 

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