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The Fitzgerald-De Ros Family

In the year after the momentous fete the health of Lord Henry Fitzgerald, now in his sixties, began to fail and he died at Boyle Farm on 8 July 1829. The obituary in The Times described him as "Endowed with a good understanding, united to principles of the highest honour, his manners were most engaging. To his other excellent qualities of a cheerful mind, he added the character of a perfect gentleman. He was surrounded by an affectionate family and numerous friends, who were sure to find under his roof, the most cordial reception, and all that was hospitable and convivial. Long will his loss be felt by those who knew how truly deserving he was of the estimation in which he was held" (231).

He was buried in Paddington church, not far from the family's town house, in the same grave in which two of his children had previously been laid (232).

His wife, the baroness de Ros, lived for another eighteen months, dying at her London house on 9 January 1831, and was laid to rest beside her late husband (232).

Just before he died Lord Henry had made out his will, it was very short. Except for some small bequests to his personal men-servants, he left the whole of his property to his wife (233).

At the baroness's death the de Ros title devolved on her eldest son, Henry William, the dandy and co-founder of the fete, who became the twenty-first baron. Nevertheless, it seems his mother was not wholeheartedly enamoured with his life-style, and decided he should not have control of the estate, and waste it away. Instead (except for a couple of houses in the village which she gave to her favourite son, William) she left it to trustees, for them to sell off and to distribute the profits amongst all the seven surviving children, share and share alike (234).

The new baron, as we have already shown, was one of that band of playboys, rich, titled, and leisured, who indulged their lives in cards, horses, pugilism, hard drinking, duelling, gambling, in fact anything which might enliven their wastrel, boring lives. Even one of his own friends called them: "unspeakably odious - with nothing remarkable about them but their insolence" (235).

He spent much of his time lounging around the pleasure centres of Europe. Where he was found in 1830 at Naples by his cousin, Henry Fox-Strangways, who summed up his character: "Saw much of H. de Ros, he has no feelings whatsoever; all sensation is so dead that I suppose he has not feeling enough to feel animal pleasure. Edward Cheney was much bit by his civil manner and sarcastic conversation, but I discovered that all friendship with him must be hollow" (236).

Yet, that he had deep unfathomed emotions, is evinced by his reaction to the death of one of his younger brothers in 1826. "I have never seen grief so strong and concentrated as his , wrote his friend Grenville, "it has exhausted his body and overwhelmed his mind, and though I knew him to have been much attached to his brother, I did not believe him capable of feelings so acute" (237).

When in England most of his time was spent at the gaming tables. He belonged to several fashionable clubs, but his favourite milieu was Graham's, where whist was played every morning, and extremely large sums of money were wagered, and won and lost. In 1836 an unpleasant rumour began to circulate that a well-known peer had been spotted several times cheating. lt was not long before people started to put a name to this noble gamester - de Ros, and some clubmen refused to play with him.

In order to bring the matter to a head, a number of the leading members of Graham's, who were all convinced that they had seen him cheat, met to decide what to do about it. Most of them liked the peer and tried to prevent a scandal, but they also wanted to preserve the good name of the club. They attempted to warn him off with oblique cautions, to no effect. In the end, seeing their endeavours miscarry, four of them wrote him a letter, in which they directly accused him of cheating. Thereby forcing him to bring a charge of libel 'against his accusers - and the scandal broke.

The suit was brought before the King's Bench Division, and several witnesses swore that they had seen him swindle many times, by using a deck of cards, several of which had been marked with a thumb-nail scratch, and by cutting the pack whenever he dealt in such a way as to ascertain that he always received a good hand. The evidence against him was overwhelming and his action for libel collapsed. This verdict was equivalent to saying that he was guilty of swindling his fellow members. He immediately set sail for the Continent, when he settled down until the excitement subsided (238). Lady Hardy, the wife of Sir Thomas Hardy, the admiral, met him in Paris, and notes in her diary: "He was, of course, completely sent to Coventry by his family and none of his former friends took any notice of him"(239).

He returned to this country, and settled down in a villa at St. John's Wood. His dissipated life now began to take its toll, his strength undermined, dropsy set in, and he departed this world on 29 March 1839. With the end in sight he became a changed man. Charles Greville, the diarist, perhaps his best friend, wrote in his memoirs: "Poor De Ros expired last night soon after twelve, after a confinement of two or three months from the time he returned to England. His end was enviably tranquil, and he bore his protracted suffering with astonishing fortitude and composure. Nothing ruffled his temper or disturbed his serenity - he was uniformly patient, mild, indulgent - overflowing with affection and kindness to all around him - with a spirit and resolution that never flagged till with a few hours of his dissolution, when nature gave way and he sank into a tranquil unconsciousness in which life gently ebbed away. Whatever may have been the error of his life, he closed the scene with a philosophical dignity not unworthy of a sage" (240). He had never married.

The title now devolved upon his eldest surviving brother, William Lennox Lascelles Fitzgerald-de Ros. Whereas Henry had been a wastrel, William was quite a different character. He had been born at Boyle Farm in 1797, and joined the army as a young man. At the age of twenty-seven he married his cousin, Georgiana Lennox, daughter of the duke of Richmond. His mother gave them the use of the house later known as "Boyle Cottage" in Church Lane, where they settled down to domestic life, and from where Lady Holland reported: "W. De Ros's marriage has turned out happily. He is become gardener, carpenter, mechanic, boatman, fisherman; in short always occupied & consequently always happy. Five children & much love: in short, it is a beau ideal of real happiness" (241). How could two brothers be so different After his accesion to the title he moved to a grander house called "Chomleys", which stood alongside the Thames by Ferry Road in Long Ditton (242).

His promotion in the army was rapid, especially after becoming aide-de-camp to the duke of Wellington. He also wrote several books on military matters, thirteen of which are listed in the index to the British Library. He died as a general and lieutenant-governor of the Tower of London, in 1874, within a few months of his golden wedding day (243). But by that time his association with Thames Ditton had long been broken.

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