The reputation for accuracy of the Gurney shorthand system invented by my 5x great grandfather Thomas Gurney was won in the law courts of the eighteenth century. I wonder sometimes what Thomas would have made of the fact that the system which he developed in order to record Baptist sermons proved itself in the reporting of sensational court hearings, which Thomas’s children Joseph and Martha then published to pander to the public’s lust for lurid detail.
Joseph Gurney (1744-1815)
Between 1772 and 1786 they published over twenty accounts of the more scandalous trials of the day. The fullness and accuracy of their transcriptions won them a good name for difficult work, and the family firm began to be engaged either by interested private organisations or by the government to record proceedings in parliamentary enquiries and committees. In time this led to the family firm’s appointment as official shorthand writers to the Houses of Parliament.
One of the first such trials to be recorded by Joseph Gurney was that of Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore (1731-1771). His formal title was “The Right Honourable The Lord Baltimore,” but there was absolutely nothing to honour in this despicable man.
Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore (1731-1771)
Educated at Eton, Calvert inherited the proprietorship and governorship of the colony of Maryland at the age of twenty, on the death of his father. The Barons Baltimore had owned Maryland since the time of Frederick’s great great grandfather Caecillius Calvert. He, the 2nd Baron, named the settlement of Baltimore in the colony after the family’s manor in Ireland. Frederick County in the state is named after the 6th Baron, who took no other interest in the colony at all. To him it was just a source of income to fund his extravagant, rakish lifestyle in Europe.
He had as little regard for women as he did for his responsibilities in America. His marriage was a failure, and his wife of five years died in 1758 from injuries sustained when she “fell” from an open carriage in which her husband was also travelling. Foul play was suspected but not proved.
In Constantinople, James Boswell recorded, Calvert “lived luxuriously and inflamed his blood … and was constantly taking medicines …he is living a strange, wild, life, useless to his country, except when raised to a delirium, and must soon destroy his constitution.” He was thrown out of Constantinople on suspicion of keeping a private harem, and on his return he built one in part of his London home. He kept a string of mistresses, one of whom later wrote Memoirs of the Seraglio of the Bashaw of Merryland, by a Discarded Sultana. In it she claimed that he was as ineffective in bed as he was in Maryland. But he left a trail of illegitimate children, none of whom he supported.
Sarah Woodcock Forcibly Introduced to Lord Baltimore –
a contemporary engraving of Frederick Calvert’s crime
The event that brought him to court in 1768, and to the shorthand skills of Joseph Gurney, was the alleged abduction and rape of a London milliner called Sarah Woodcock. Like many rapists, his defence was that she had consented; and the jury agreed that she had not tried hard enough to escape. Calvert was acquitted; but his reputation in England was destroyed and he left for Europe, never to return.
His arrival in Vienna is recorded: “In 1769 my Lord was travelling with eight women, a physician, and two negroes, which he called his corregidores, who were entrusted with the discipline of his little seraglio. When the chief of police requested him to declare which of the eight ladies was his wife, he replied that he was an Englishman, and that when he was called upon to give an account of his sexual arrangements, if he could not settle the matter with his fists, it was his practice to set out instantly on his travels again.” He died of a fever in Naples two years after that, aged 39, mourned by few. The Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine reported:
His Lordship had injured his character in his life by seduction, so that the populace paid no regard to his memory when dead, but plundered the room where his body lay the moment it was removed.
The TRIAL of FREDERICK CALVERT, Esq., Baron of Baltimore, in the Kingdom of Ireland FOR a Rape on the Body of Sarah Woodcock, AND OF Eliz. Griffinburg, & Ann Harvey, Otherwise Darby, as ACCESSARIES Before the Fact, for Procuring, Aiding and Abetting Him in Committing the Said Rape
(an Edinburgh publication of a transcription of the trial)