John Bernard Gilpin (1701-1776)

John Bernard Gilpin

Written by David A Cross

Occupations: Drawing Master and Soldier

Background and Family

John Bernard Gilpin was descended from the Gilpins of Kentmere Hall, near the source of the river Kent and eight miles north north west of Kendal.  He was named after his collateral ancestor, the Rev Bernard Gilpin [1516-1584; ODNB], ‘the Apostle of the North’ who bravely spoke out against iconoclasm. Their mutual ancestor Richard de Gylpin [fl. 13thc.] slew ‘the last wild boar in Westmorland’ and was rewarded with the Kentmere estate, where his descendants lived until the 17th century. This event is described in The Minstrels of Winandermere [1811] by the Rev Charles Farish [1766-1824], Captain Gilpin’s grandson, and the wild boar was adopted in the Gilpin heraldry.  Their motto Dictis Factisque Simplex translates as ‘sincere in word and deed’, a fitting reflection of this family. The Gilpins fought for the king during the civil war, so the Gilpin estate was sequestered and bought by the Phillipsons [Jordan].  Nonetheless, ‘generations of keen-minded, devout, vigorous men, leaders and servants of the people’ maintained the line in England and America [Templeman].

John Bernard was born at Scaleby Castle, Irthington, on 21 January 1701, a few months after the death of his paternal grandfather, the Rev Dr Richard Gilpin [1625-1700; ODNB] who was rector of Greystoke from 1652-60, but became a ‘celebrated Non-conformist divine’ in Newcastle where he also practised as a physician [Clerk].  He had bought Scaleby castle from the Musgraves in 1660, after it had been damaged by fire and began the restorations.  Dating from c.1307, the castle is enclosed by a circular moat and bears the Gilpin arms on the fabric.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that Sir Richard Musgrave [d.1422] of Kirkby Stephen is said to have slain the last wild boar in Cumberland.  

John’s parents were William Gilpin [1657-1724], a lawyer and the steward of Sir John Lowther Bt. [1642-1706; ODNB] at Whitehaven from 1692, and Mary [1659-1746], the daughter of Henry Fletcher [1640-1712] of Tallentire Hall, near Cockermouth.  He was one of fifteen children, ten of whom died in childhood, his surviving siblings being Susannah Maria [1689-1769] who married Joseph Dacre Appleby, Ann [1691-1769], Richard [1692-after 1739] and William [1697-1735].  In 1723, John married Matilda Longstaff [1703-1773], the daughter of the late John Langstaff [b.c.1675] and his wife Margaret Brisco, who, with her two sisters, had been the ward of his father.  John’s two brothers married the other sisters.  John and Matilda ‘lived in conjugal felicity’ for fifty years, having sixteen children themselves, of whom several died young. The key survivors were the Rev. William [1724-1804]; Betty [1726-1805], who married the Rev. James Farish [1714-1793]; Susannah Maria [1731-1815], the second wife of Walter Acton Moseley [1716-1793]; Sawrey [1733-1807] and Sir Joseph Dacre Appleby [1745-1834], named after his uncle.

His Father’s Career

As the Lowther steward, William held considerable prestige, used his skills as a surveyor and lawyer to supervise and encourage a range of business activities in Whitehaven for the largely absent Sir John and accrued ‘no little profit’ himself [Bonehill].  Apart from the considerable mining and exporting of coal, he was active in the planning of the town, encouraged shipbuilders and was comptroller of customs at the port with trade in Baltic timber, tobacco, rum, sugar and slaves.  He also took advice from Aaron Wedgwood II [1666-1743] in establishing a pottery, was the Lowther electoral agent, in which capacity he reconciled warring factions, and witnessed Sir John’s will in 1705.  Ralph Thoresby [1658-1725; ODNB], the antiquary and topographer, described Gilpin in the 1690s as ‘an ingenious gentleman…….an accomplished historian and virtuoso’ and an able conversationalist with ‘his own store of natural curiosities’ [Thoresby mss]. 

As a boy, John and his siblings had received drawing lessons from their father and from Mathias Read [1669-1747], ‘the founder of landscape painting in Cumberland’, who was also based in Whitehaven.  Under Read’s tutelage, William produced some landscapes in oil and works in sepia wash and his copy of a Holy Family by Annibale Caracci appeared in a saleroom in 1904.  Both Gilpin Sr. and Read would have been familiar with Sir John’s painting collection, which included work by Dutch and Italian masters recommended by the prominent portraitist Sir Godfrey Kneller [1646-1723; ODNB]. The Gilpins themselves had a collection of paintings and William accumulated Roman altars, urns and intaglios mostly found on their property at Castlesteads Fort, west of Birdoswald, which feature in Alexander Gordon’s Itinerarium Septentrionale [1726], a major survey of Roman sites in Scotland and the north of England. Gordon [c.1692-1755; ODNB] wrote that ‘this gentleman’s death was a fatal stroke to learning in that country, he being an indefatigable collector of antiquities, nor did I converse with any person there who understood them better’. Sir John Clerk 2nd Bt. of Penycuik [1676-1755; ODNB] visited Scaleby in William’s final year, recording him to be ‘an excellent scholar…..noted for antiquarian and aesthetic tastes’.  A silver tankard presented to him on that occasion is displayed at the Guildhall Museum, Carlisle.

On the death of Dr Gilpin in 1700, John’s father inherited Scaleby where he continued the restoration, but remained as the Lowther steward, moving from Whitehaven after 1717 prior to his appointment in 1718 as recorder of Carlisle.  On his death in 1724, Richard Gilpin as his eldest son succeeded to the Lowther stewardship but was far less assiduous and following some acrimony, he was succeeded by the more reliable John Spedding [1685-1758] in 1730.  Restorations at Scaleby continued but the extravagant Richard’s financial difficulties led to the estate being mortgaged to Edward Stephenson [1691-1768] governor of Bengal and eventually sold in 1739.  

His Military Career

With the support of Sir James Lowther, a commission was bought for John by his father c.1720 in the 12th regiment of foot, then called ‘the Duke of Norfolk’s regiment’.  He was sent to Fort William, Scotland, to join General George Wade [1673-1748; ODNB] in the surveying and making of military roads, to facilitate the control of the disaffected clansman whose animosity had smouldered since the 1715 Jacobite rebellion.  At some point he was summoned south to Windsor where he met Col. James Gardiner [1688-1745], ‘a rogue made good’, whose character was later included in Walter Scott’s Waverley [1814].

Wade strove to alleviate the ‘state of anarchy and confusion’ where poor medieval tracks rendered the Highlands ‘virtually inaccessible’ to the troops [Wade’s report]. He had advocated the establishment of independent Highland companies to impose the Hanoverian government’s authority in Scotland, but distracted by European affairs, the London administration was slow and funds were provided erratically.  Nevertheless, a network of 240 miles of roads, enhanced by thirty five bridges, was completed between 1724 and 1737.  This linked the central lowlands with a strategic series of fortified barracks stretching diagonally across the Highlands from Fort William, in the west, founded by Cromwell on the shore of Loch Linnhe, to the new Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness and eventually in the east, on the Moray Firth, the new Fort George at Inverness.  

It seems likely that Gilpin was involved in both the surveying and the construction.  Pressed Highlanders had understandably been deemed unreliable, so the work was achieved mostly by soldiers working in construction parties of 100 men, with four NCOs, three officers and a captain, supported by an ad hoc group of stonemasons and carpenters. For their efforts to make well-drained solid surfaces they were rewarded with double pay, the perks of bonfires, roasts and plenty of ale. Each season saw 500 men at work from April to October, if the weather permitted, in this, the largest civil engineering project since Roman times.

Despite Gilpin’s undoubted artistic skills he is not listed as an official originator of a surviving drawing or map, but The Plan of Castle Tyrim in Moidart [National Library of Scotland] by Paul Sandby [1731-1809] and the captain’s 1748 painting North View of Tyrim Castle in Loch Moidart [Barbier], after Paul Sandby, suggest that they shared interests in the Highlands even if this watercolour was done at a later date.  Sandby [1731-1809] was appointed chief draughtsman to the Board of Ordinance in 1747 and was thirty years Gilpin’s junior but the captain’s later relationship with this gifted young professional is a parallel with his future friendships at the deanery. Sandby is said to have designed some of the last bridges and certainly collaborated with the captain’s son William in the 1780s.

In 1738 Sir James Lowther secured for John Gilpin the post of commanding officer of the Independent Company of Invalids, a group of elderly veterans who formed the garrison of Carlisle Castle. The city walls were ‘weak and defenceless’ and had been seriously compromised when besieged for eight months by General Alexander Leslie during the civil war, almost a century earlier. Although the senior officer, Gilpin had neither the resources nor the influence to improve the situation and the years rolled on. 

As a veteran of Wade’s roadbuilding, Gilpin would have been fully aware of the situation to the north and in mid-1745 it was evident that the second rebellion was imminent.  Tellingly for the period, the governor of Carlisle castle, Lt Gen John Folliott [c.1684-1748], had not visited the city for six years.  So Gilpin prepared the city’s defences as best he could, sent for cannon from Whitehaven and summoned the mutinous county militias in anticipation of the arrival of the Jacobites.  Alarmed by the rumours, a number of nearby residents had taken refuge in the city, including the elderly bishop-baronet, Sir George Fleming [1667-1747] who decamped from Rose Castle. 

On 11 October 1745 Gilpin displayed his habitual good humour when he was relieved by the gouty Frenchman Lt Col James Durand [d.1766] of the 1st foot, sent by the duke of Newcastle.  This did at least spare him, in part, the ignominy of the surrender to Prince Charles Stewart on 15 November.  The townspeople had ‘looked up to [Gilpin] with respect and confidence’ so ‘the common cry of the country’ rose against Durand the senior officer, stating that ‘if captain Gilpin had been left to himself, the town [would have] never been given up’ [Massey], but this is a loyal exaggeration. Still in Newcastle, General Wade remained as commander in chief at this date but as he was over seventy, he was soon replaced by the much younger duke of Cumberland [1721-1765], aged only twenty four.

Charles Stewart marched south from Carlisle leaving a garrison of Scotsmen but as his promised supporters did not materialise, his clan chiefs lost heart and on arrival at Derby on 4 December, he was urged to retreat.  Returning north they were harried by Cumberland’s forces but held their own at Clifton Moor, near Penrith on 18 December.  Cumberland retook Carlisle and despite the Jacobite victory at Falkirk Muir on 17 January 1746, the Jacobite force was finally annihilated at Culloden on 16 April.

Durand was court martialled at the great room at the Horse Guards in London on 15-16 September 1746 but Gilpin spoke in his defence and he was exonerated.  No longer required at Carlisle castle, in 1749 the captain’s company marched down to Plymouth, Gilpin retiring to Carlisle on full pay after a year, but being required to return periodically to the Royal Citadel, in Devonshire, where he also produced some fine watercolours [exh. Kenwood, 1969].

His Drawing School

Until 1735 the captain and his family lived at Scaleby, but they moved to Castle St., Carlisle at some point before the baptism of their daughter Ann at St Mary’s on 8 October 1736.  By November 1739 and the birth of Catherine they were living in Abbey St., probably a property belonging to the dean and chapter.  They were friendly with the new dean, Dr Robert Bolton [1697-1763; ODNB], who ‘showed the captain every friendship in his power.’  Bolton was a wealthy pluralist who lived mostly at Reading where he was the incumbent of the Minster.  Three more children followed at Abbey St. but then the family was overtaken by the events of 1745. After Clifton Moor on 18 December, with the news of the rebels moving north, the captain prudently hired a cart and moved his family through the snow to Whitehaven.  In the following spring when things had settled down the Gilpins moved into the empty deanery and there, in the prior’s tower in 1746, he established a permanent painting room for the first time in his adult life.  This stroke of fortune, coupled with his earlier military promotion improved the family circumstances as his family was at the time so large ‘that it was hardly in his power, with all his economy, to maintain them’ [Perriam].

He also suffered from a lack of fellow artists and indeed of paintings to copy, becoming reliant upon historical prints.  On the rare occasions he had access to a good quality painting, his copies were deemed to be good, his outlines of figures accurate, but his use of colour less satisfactory.  Nonetheless, he was ‘one of the best gentleman painters of his time’ [Massey].  He enjoyed rambling in the countryside to make drawings and was also a keen fisherman. His chosen subjects were mostly either architecture or landscape and he worked in pencil, chalk and indian ink with periodic experiments with etching [Hall].  Keen to share his enthusiasm, John established a drawing school, sometimes teaching as many as twelve students at a time intermittently from 1750-1770.  During this period, regarded as one of the best local amateur painters, he strove to encourage and develop their skills.  

His widowed sister, Susannah Appleby, continued their father’s excavations at Castlesteads in 1741, discovering a Roman bath house, thus being ‘the earliest female antiquary of whom we have a record in the Wall region’ [Birley]. Most of the captain’s surviving drawings are of landscape subjects including some fine waterfalls and craggy details, appealingly composed [Yale Centre for British Art] and among his architectural drawings are View of Furness Abbey [Wordsworth Trust] and A Smoking Lime Kiln [British Museum].  Several of his drawings of Roman antiquities found at Netherby were used by Thomas Pennant for his Tour of Scotland [1772], a publication which may have been a spur to his son William.  Barbier illustrates [pl.1] his emblem of a dog barking at the moon, which he entitles: The impotent effects of malice and envy.

His sons and their achievements

The Rev William Gilpin [1724-1804; ODNB], John Bernard’s eldest surviving son, became a landscape painter of watercolour and a writer on aesthetics. Born at Scaleby, he was first tutored by Dr John Brown [1715-1766] of Wigton, a minor canon of Carlisle and from 1761, the vicar of St Nicholas, Newcastle [now the cathedral]. In 1756 David Garrick performed in Athelstan, one of Brown’s plays, which celebrates the meeting of the kings at Eamont Bridge, towards the end of the heptarchy.  Brown also wrote the earliest description of the lake at Keswick [publ. 1767] and had drawing lessons from the captain.  William was then educated at St Bees School and Queen’s College, Oxford, graduating in 1744, before being ordained and appointed curate at Irthington, under his uncle the Rev James Farish [1712-1793].  In 1748 he took his MA and held several London curacies prior to becoming an innovative headmaster at Cheam, Hampshire, from 1752-1777. 

Having taken several sketching tours of the Lake District, Scotland and Wales, William published several volumes, notably Observations, relative chiefly to picturesque beauty made in the year 1772 on several parts of England; particularly the mountains and lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland [1786], his texts being illustrated with the new aquatints. These publications were admired by George III and others, so consequently he ‘exerted an unprecedented influence upon the taste and travels of his contemporaries’ [Massey].  By offering ‘elegant rules for the amateur with a watercolour box’ he also had a significant influence upon landscape composition [Hardie] and was satirised as ‘Dr Syntax’ by William Coombe [1742-1823], in publications from 1809, cleverly illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson [1757-1827; ODNB].  The character of Syntax became so popular he appeared in a series of Derby porcelain figurines and upon plates by several potteries.  

Gilpin’s reputation at a time when amateur draughtsmanship was on the rise, led to the sons of connoisseurs, like John Grimston [1725-1780], to be educated at Cheam. Here too they were ‘inculcated with a proper respect for the work of professional artists’ which was acknowledged by Thomas Grimston as ‘no small acquisition to the knowledge of a gentleman’ [Sloane]. Apart from encouraging wealthy pupils to become ‘men of taste’ [Sloane], at Boldre, William further demonstrated his advanced pedagogy by educating gypsies and day labourers. His former pupil William Mitford [1744-1827; ODNB] then presented him to the benefice of the parish of Boldre in the New Forest and he also held a prebendal stall at Salisbury until his death.   His portrait by Henry Walton is at the National Portrait Gallery.  Many examples of William’s work survive in the British Museum, the V & A, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and at Dove Cottage, Grasmere.  

Sawrey Gilpin R.A. [1733-1807; ODNB], the captain’s second surviving son, was a successful artist in both oils and watercolours. Sent to London aged fourteen, he worked with the marine painter Samuel Scott [1702-1772] but was more inspired by equestrian subjects which became his forte.  Some of Sawrey’s drawings caught the attention of the duke of Cumberland c.1757 and he was invited to Newmarket and Windsor Great Park.  He became skilled at painting individual racehorses, groups of mares and foals and captured the fashionable protoromantic mood with his Frightened Horses [Royal Collection].  After 1760 he painted several works for George III, notably the horse in the king’s equestrian portrait by Beechey [Royal Collection], which was engraved for Boydell’s Shakespeare. In tandem with his equine models, he painted numerous portraits of dogs of all breeds and hunting paintings such as The Death of the Fox [Burghley House; 1793], probably inspired by Mathias Read.  He also sketched the family wild boar [above] as a book plate for his brother William. Keen to follow the fashion for literary subjects, he produced popular canvases inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Houyhnhnms, the talking horses in Gulliver’s Travels [1726].  

Observing the ‘great concern’ manifested by William over his younger brother, the captain wrote suggesting that the cleric was ‘too severe a critic’. Though their personalities were very different, Sawrey managed to collaborate with his brother William, producing watercolours of cattle to be printed in his picturesque works.    Sawrey also provided horses for joint canvases such as George Romney’s John Christian Curwen [private collection] and George Barrett Sr’s A View from the Terrace, Richmond Hill [Christie’s 6.7.1988]. He was president of the democratically run Society of Artists in 1774, but eventually compromised his politics by exhibiting at the elitist Royal Academy in 1786, being elected ARA in 1795 and RA in 1797 during the presidency of his American cousin Sir Benjamin West [1738-1820]. At the Academy, he contended with George Stubbs [1724-1806] who had claim to a ‘rival competence’ [‘Anthony Pasquin’, cited Cross, 1998].  Another later patron was the eccentric Col. Thomas Thornton [1751-1823] of Thornville Royal, near Harrogate, Yorkshire for whom he painted The Display on the Return to Dulnon Camp [Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, Texas].  After the death of his wife, Sawrey lived at Southwell at the home of Samuel Whitbread, another patron and friend.  His pencil portrait was drawn by George Dance [Royal Academy] and upon seeing his bust, by his pupil George Garrard [1760-1826] at Burghley House, Barbarina Brand wrote a sonnet.  Several works are in the Royal Collection, the Government Art Collection, at the RA, the V & A, the Tate, Edinburgh National Gallery, the Fitzwilliam, Calke Abbey [NT], York Art Gallery, Tullie House and Yale. Sawrey’s son William Sawrey Gilpin [1762-1843], the fourth generation of Gilpin artists, was president of the Old Watercolour Society.

The captain’s fourteenth and youngest child Joseph [1745-1834] was born in the deanery in March 1745, eight months before the arrival of the Jacobite army.  He was probably less involved in the drawing school but took an interest in exhibitions at the Carlisle Academy in the 1820s.  Apprenticed to Dr Graham in Carlisle, he attended the universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen and became a military surgeon.  Following a career in America during the war of Independence, when he was ‘noticed’ by George Washington, he lived in the West Indies for eighteen years, based in Grenada.  Next, as Deputy Inspector General of Military Hospitals at Gibraltar, he successfully controlled an outbreak of plague in 1813 through his ‘great professional abilities, zeal and attention’. In recognition of this, he was knighted by the Prince Regent in 1815. Returning to Carlisle in 1816 he enjoyed ‘his honours and the high esteem of his fellow citizens’, where his ‘knowledge of the world, his medical experience, his courteous disposition and urbanity made [him] a great acquisition for the town’. Furthermore ‘his venerable appearance……the benevolence of his disposition - the interest and intelligence of his conversation - combined to gain him troops of friends wherever he went’ and it was said that ‘in life he never had an enemy’ [Barnes; Jefferson].   He was also four times mayor of Carlisle between 1806 and 1821, was the seconder of Sir Phillip Musgrave Bt. [1794-1827] as a parliamentary candidate and was a shareholder in the Carlisle canal company.  In 1796 he married Aemilia Susannah, daughter of Gen. Sir Paulus Aemilius Irving Bt. [1751-1828] of Robgill Tower, Dumfries, who had been his c/o in the West Indies.  In 1811 he lived in Castle St. and upon Aemilia’s death he married Catherine Graham; two of their servants prior to 1818 were the parents of the Carlisle artist Sam Bough [1822-1878].  In 1833 he moved to Bath where he lived in Old Sydney Place until his death in 1834, when he was buried in the graveyard at St Mary’s, Bathwick.  His portrait was painted by Robert Edge Pine [sale Wotton, Gloucester, 2016], who also painted George Washington and his bust by David Dunbar [1792-1866] is in Carlisle cathedral.  

His pupils and their achievements

John ‘Warwick’ Smith [1749-1833; ODNB] was born at Irthington, near Brampton and baptised on 27th July 1748. He was the son of Edward Smith, the gardener to Mrs Susannah Appleby, sister of the captain and the Gilpins may have paid for his education at St Bees school. After his time in Carlisle, he was himself a drawing master in a Whitehaven school and then had further instruction from Sawrey Gilpin in London, who introduced him to George Greville the 2nd earl of Warwick [1746-1816; ODNB] whilst in Derbyshire in 1775.  By now a fine topographical draughtsman, he was sent on a European tour from 1776-1781, coinciding with William Pars [1742-1782], Francis Towne [1740-1816] and Thomas Jones 1742-1803] and recorded key vistas for the earl such as St Peter’s from the Villa Mileni [Tate], The Temple of the Sybil [Private Collection] and The Falls of Terni [Winchester College].  His stipend was channelled via Sir William Hamilton [1731-1803; ODNB], the earl’s uncle.  Smith returned via Switzerland, where he drew From Salanches looking toward Mont Blanc [Manchester Art Gallery], lived at Warwick and later published Select Views of Italy [1792-99] containing seventy two plates, including View of Vesuvius from Sir William Hamilton’s Villa at Portici.  From this point he was generally known as ‘Warwick’ Smith.  Commissioned next by John Christian Curwen [1756-1828; ODNB] of Workington Hall, he painted a fine series of twenty watercolours of the Lake District, such as the remarkable vista of Windermere From Calgarth looking north [Wordsworth Trust] which includes a well caught temperature inversion and The Langdale Pikes and Ullswater, looking towards Patterdale [Agnews, 1975].  This resulted in his Views of the Lakes of Cumberland with engraving after his work by Merigot [1791-95] including The Ferry on Windermere and Wythburn Lake.  He visited Wales with Julius Caesar Ibbetson [1759-1817] and left a quantity of work including Chirk Castle and The Junction of Mona and Parys Mountain copper mines [both National Museum of Wales]. He tutored Sir Richard Colt Hoare [1758-1838; ODNB] of Stourhead, dined with Sir John Soane [1753-1837; ODNB] and spent some of his final years at Fonthill with William Beckford [1760-1844; ODNB], capturing both the landscape and the gothic architecture.  Smith was a member in 1806, and president in 1814, of the Old Watercolour Society and has been credited with being one of the earliest to break away from the rather limited ‘tinted tradition’ of the earlier 18thc.  His work is at the British Museum, the V & A, The Fitzwilliam Museum and at Yale.

Robert Smirke R.A. [1753-1845; ODNB] another of the captain’s pupils was born in Wigton, son of the artist Richard Smirke [1727-1776], apprenticed to an heraldic painter and then attended the RA schools.  An early exhibit at the Society of Artists in 1775 was Juno’s Interview with the Furies. At some point he offered an altarpiece to St Mary’s Wigton as a gift but as the parish jibbed at paying the mere £30 for hanging the work, he withdrew his offer and vowed never to return to the town. In 1786 he showed The Lady and Sabrina from Milton’s Comus at the Royal Academy and his Wreck of the Halsewell was engraved by Robert Pollard. In 1788 he recorded Keswick Regatta.  He then tackled numerous biblical, mythological and literary subjects in oils, notably a series of 32 works for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery including Falstaff disguised at Herne the Hunter, with Mistress Ford and Mistress Page [all Royal Shakespeare Company] and The Awakening of King Lear [Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington].  

Elected ARA in 1791 and RA in 1793, he was appointed Keeper at the Academy but his position was vetoed by George III, on account of his ‘revolutionary opinions’.  In later life he exhibited at Suffolk Street but mostly he was employed as an illustrator, notably for Don Quixote, Gil Blas and The Arabian Nights. That he had a taste for satire is evident in The Portrait but, in contrast, he also illustrated James Montgomery’s poem on The Abolition of the Slave Trade [1814].  He was the father of Richard [1778-1815], an antiquarian draughtsman; the successful architect Sir Robert Smirke Jr. [1780-1867; ODNB], who designed the British Museum; Sir Edward Smirke [1795-1875; ODNB], a lawyer and archaeologist; Sidney Smirke [1798-1877] an architect; and Mary [1779-1853], an artist who translated Don Quixote [1818].

Guy Head [1760-1800; ODNB] was born in Carlisle in June 1760, the son of Thomas Head [1723-1761], a butcher and his wife Isabella Warwick [b.1734] the daughter of Guy Warwick [1694-1743].  After leaving the captain’s school, he attended the RA schools from 1778, exhibiting in London where his work was admired by Sir Joshua Reynolds [1723-1792].  Back in Carlisle on 8th June 1783 he married Jane Lewthwaite [b.1764], the daughter of Musgrave Lewthwaite, an ironmonger, and was living in Kirby St, Camden, London at the birth of his first daughter Eliza on 13th January 1784.  They had two more daughters, Isabella and Jane.  Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson [1804-1847], the major Cumbrian sculptor, was his nephew. [q.v.]  Initially travelling to Holland in 1787, he painted portraits of Thomas and Henry Hope, the merchants of Amsterdam, then went on to Kassel, Germany with the Dutch artist Daniel Dupré [1751-1817] where he was elected an academician.  Next, in Bologna he was elected to the Accademia Clementina, presenting Erminia writing Tancred’s name; at Parma became an honorary member of the Accademia Parmense with Blind Oedipus and at Florence his copy of Titian’s Venus was much admired, giving him an entrée to that academy too. 

Living in Rome he was busy as a portraitist, was elected to the Accademia di S. Luca for his Iris and copied works by Guercino, Guido Reni and Correggio.  When Napoleon advanced on Rome in 1798, the family fled to Naples where they met Sir William Hamilton [1731-1803; ODNB], Emma Hamilton [1765-1815; ODNB] and Admiral Nelson [1858-1805; ODNB] who arranged their passage back to England, enabling them to salvage numerous paintings.  During the voyage, his son Horatio Nelson Head [1798-1829] was born and baptised on board.  He sent some paintings back to his sister at Standingstones, Wigton and rented a small gallery in London to exhibit his best work but died suddenly aged only forty.  He exhibited at the Society of Artists, the Royal Academy and posthumously at the Carlisle Academy from 1823-5. The RA bought his copy of Rubens’ The Elevation of the Cross.  His portraits include Admiral Lord Nelson receiving the French admiral’s Sword after the Battle of the Nile, John Flaxman and The Duke of Sussex [all National Portrait Gallery].  His mythological subjects include Iris [National Gallery of Scotland], Venus giving her girdle to Juno [Nottingham Art Gallery] and Echo flying from Narcissus [Detroit Institute of Arts]. The Royal Academy holds some of his small scale figure drawings in pencil.

The Gilpin Circle in Carlisle

So remarkable was the incidence of eminence in this family that Francis Galton [1822-1911] refers to them in his work on hereditary genius. The captain and his family thus had a great impact in Carlisle and his intellectual and genteel circle, which discussed not just painting, but music, science and philosophy, ‘threw an air of elegance over the whole town’ [Gilpin, Memoirs].  Meeting weekly, the captain threw open his house to anyone with cultured or intellectual interests.  Apart from Dr John Brown, the regular visitors included Dr William Brownrigg FRS [1711-1800; ODNB], the physician; Charles Avison [1709-1770; ODNB], the organist; Leonard Smelt [1719-1800; ODNB], the military engineer and on occasion, the dean, Dr Bolton.  Another member of the family who is warmly remembered is the captain’s son-in-law, the Rev James Farish.  It might not be an exaggeration to suggest that this group is the earlier Cumberland equivalent of the Lunar Society of Birmingham [1765-1813].  

Brownrigg was a physician and scientist in Whitehaven who had studied in London and Holland, had won a Copley medal in 1766 for his work on carbonic gas and who was the discoverer of the element platinum [Ward]. It was Brownrigg who encouraged Father Thomas West [c.1720-1779; ODNB] to write his groundbreaking Guide to the Lakes [1788]. His wife was Mary Spedding [1721-1794], the daughter of John Spedding, the Lowther steward.

Avison, the organist of St Nicholas, Newcastle, later the cathedral, was a composer, a critic and the author of An Essay on Musical Expression [1763] which was admired by Charles Burney and other musical patrons [Southey].  In 1735 he organised the Newcastle Subscription Concerts which became the most successful outside London.  He knew Thomas Gray [1716-1771] and on visiting Derwentwater with the Rev. William Gilpin, Avison was heard to interject, totally awestruck: ‘Here is beauty indeed - Beauty lying in the lap of Horror !’  His exclamation was recorded and popularised and provides an indication of the influence of the captain’s circle upon his sons’ aesthetic achievement.

Smelt was an army officer and military engineer who had become a skilled military artist under Clement Lempriere in 1740 and fought at Dettingen in 1743. Next he travelled north in 1745 to survey and construct the road from Carlisle to Newcastle.  This had been planned by Wade but never executed and like the vast new Fort George [1748-1757], outside Inverness, was further evidence of the Hanoverians’ dilatory progress with defending their new realm.  He advised the duke of Cumberland upon the restoration of Carlisle castle and walls from 1746 and was also involved in improving the fortifications in Newfoundland in 1751 and later in Antigua and Tynemouth.  He had polished manners and a cultivated mind and this royal connection led to his appointment as the sub-governor of Frederick, duke of York and the future George IV from 1771-1781 and as a friend of George III he was appointed deputy ranger of Richmond Park.  He also knew Dr Johnson [1709-1784; ODNB], Horace Walpole [1717-1797; ODNB] and Hannah More [1745-1833; ODNB].

Farish, learned and kindly, was born in Whitehaven, the son of James Farish [1673-1737] of Broom Park, Holme Cultram, and was the vicar of Irthington and then the rector of Stanwix.  Through Brownrigg, he knew Benjamin Franklin [1706-1790; ODNB], the printer, scientist, polymath and contributor to the American Declaration of Independence [Block].

Later Life

Few families have produced so many gifted and successful people and in considering this achievement, Captain Gilpin’s wife Matilda Longstaff must be celebrated too.  Although it is often stated that Gilpin died at Scaleby Castle on 14 March 1776, this seems very unlikely as the estate had passed out of the family in 1739.  He was buried with Matilda, who had predeceased him in 1773, under a simple ledger slab at the north western corner of Carlisle cathedral yard, the inscription stating that they had ‘bequeathed to their posterity a most amiable and instructive example’[Warner].  About 150 examples of his work are preserved in collections including: The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere; Tullie House, Carlisle; and the British Museum.


  • has several online Gilpin pedigrees
  • C.P. Barbier, William Gilpin, his drawing teaching and theory of the Picturesque, Oxford, 1963
  • Henry Barnes MD, Presidential speech, British Medical Journal, 1 Aug 1896
  • Peter Bicknell, The Picturesque Scenery of the Lake District, Winchester, 1990
  • Eric Birley, Research on Hadrian’s Wall, Kendal, 1961
  • S.S. Block, Benjamin Franklin, Genius of Kites, Jefferson NC, 2015
  • A.P. Blundell, The Family of Farish of Cumberland, formerly of Dumfriesshire, Taylor and Co., 1902
  • John Bonehill, Matthias Read’s Whitehaven Prospects, British Library website 2019
  • M.E. Burkett and David Sloss, Read’s Point of View, Kendal, 1995
  • James Cropper, Kentmere Hall, CW2, 1901, 280-84
  • David A. Cross, The Rev William Gilpin, Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996
  • David A. Cross, Sawrey Gilpin: Rival of Stubbs, Armitt Journal,1998 pp.64-85 
  • David A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, 2017 pp.142-3
  • RS Ferguson, Surrender of Carlisle ms M1304 no 6  Jackson 
  • Brinsley Ford, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, New Haven, 1997
  • Dr [Joseph] Gilpin’s remarks on the Fever at Gibraltar in 1813, Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol.10 1814 p.41 and 311ff
  • William Gilpin, Memoirs of Dr Richard Gilpin of Scaleby Castle, Cumberland and his posterity…..etc., London, 1791; later edn ed Jackson 1879
  • John Miller Gray ed., Memoirs of Sir John Clerk of Penycuik 1892
  • Grove Dictionary of Art articles on Gilpin’s sons and pupils 
  • D.R. Hainsworth, Correspondence of Sir John Lowther of Whitehaven, 1693-98, Record of Social and Economic History vol.7, [mss Carlisle record office]
  • Marshall Hall, The Artists of Cumbria, Newcastle, 1979
  • Martin Hardie, Water Colour Painting in Britain, Vol.1, 1975
  • Stephen Hebron, In the Line of Beauty: Early Amateur Artists, Grasmere, 2008
  • Victoria Henshaw, Scotland and the British Army c.1700-c.1750, PhD thesis Birmingham chapter 5
  • C. Roy Hudleston and R.S. Boumfrey, Armorials for Westmorland [1975] and Cumberland [1978]
  • Samuel Jefferson, History and Antiquities of Carlisle, Carlisle, 1838, p.429
  • John Woolf Jordan, Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania, 1911
  • Joseph Massey, Captain J.B. Gilpin, accessed July 2020
  • G.G. Mounsey and John Waugh, Carlisle in 1745……., Carlisle, 1846
  • Denis Perriam articles in the Cumberland News: Sir Joseph Gilpin, 18 July 2008; Carlisle city walls, 25 July 2008; Leonard Smelt, 9 August 2013 
  • Cecilia Powell and Stephen Hebron, Savage Grandeur and Noblest Thoughts: The Discovery of the Lake District 1750-1820, Dove Cottage, 2010
  • Cecilia Powell and Stephen Hebron, A Cumbrian Artist Rediscovered: John [Warwick] Smith [1749-1833], Dove Cottage, 2011
  • Kim[berly Mae] Sloane, The Teaching of Non-Professional Artists in 18thc England, PhD thesis online, 1986 
  • Kim Sloane, Two Albums of Drawings by J.B.Gilpin, The Magazine for the International Collector of Drawings Watercolours, vol.6 no.2, 1991
  • Roz Southey and Eric Cross eds., Charles Avison in Context, 2017
  • W.D. Templeman, The Life and Work of William Gilpin, Urbana, Illinois, 1939
  • Jean E. Ward and Joan Yell [eds.], The medical casebook of William Brownrigg M.D. F.R.S. [1712-1800], supplement no.13 Wellcome Institute London, 1993
  • Richard Warner, Miscellanies, Bath, 1819 p.146