The impact of Fenwick Stow’s bankruptcy on James Boswell

The Temples, like the Stows, were one of a small number of families who dominated the trade, politics and social life of Berwick-upon-Tweed. William Temple (1710-1774) was Mayor in 1749 and 1753; his name appears on the portico of the Town Hall; and on the Number 4 ‘William’ tenor of the bells in the belfry. There is a memorial to ‘William Temple, Mayor of Berwick when the Town Hall was built’ in Trinity Parish Church. William’s son, William Johnstone1 Temple 2 (1739-1796) was a close friend of James Boswell (1740-1795), the traveller and writer, whom he met at the University of Edinburgh. His friendship has been documented through the letters they exchanged. 3

By 1764, William Johnstone Temple was courting Anne Stow, the daughter of William Stow-Lundie either by his first wife Anne Blake 4 or more likely by his second wife, Mary Mow. 5 Whichever, Anne had a personal fortune of £1,300 probably resulting from the family’s connection with Sir Francis Blake of Twizel Castle, near Tillmouth. 6

Separate correspondence 7 suggests that Anne’s relatives were against the marriage and, given the difference in fortunes at this stage, perhaps this is not surprising. Anne was the grand-daughter of David Stow and Anne Selby and therefore the cousin of Fenwick Stow. Anne was regarded as well-read even before her marriage to William Johnstone Temple and she (or one of her contemporaries) had been to Bath.8

As an independent woman with income of her own, Anne was able to marry William Johnstone Temple against the wishes of her family.They were eventually married in Holy Trinity Church, Berwick-upon-Tweed on 6th August 1767 but the marriage was not particularly happy. They started their married life in cramped accommodation in Mamhead on very little income 9 which had to stretch to supporting both William’s bankrupt father and his brother whose military career had suffered at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War.

At the time of his courtship and marriage, William was already beginning to suffer financial difficulties.  ‘In 1761 his father had been finding it difficult to keep his head above water, and in the second half of that year had got his son to join with him in a bond for raising £200 to discharge part of his debts. For some years he had “used or Exercised the Trade of a Merchant Dealing in Exchange”: that is, he was a primitive banker and discounter of bills, and it may well have been his bill-broking which pushed him over into insolvency in a time of considerable economic fluctuation. The joint bond, however, was not enough to keep all creditors at bay; it proved impossible, “on account of prior encumbrances”, to raise a mortgage on certain properties (including fisheries) which they owned jointly; whereupon the “said William Temple requested the said Wm. J. Temple to raise the sum of £500 upon a mortgage of his own separate Estate” at the same time promising to indemnify him “on account of the said two sums of money”. The son agreed, but before the necessary legal business could be completed William Temple was declared bankrupt. When it appeared that his assets could not realise as much as five shillings in the pound for his creditors, Temple, “out of filial regard”, as the Title Abstract put it, increased the amount to that sum, and in return was given ownership of what was left of his father’s lands and goods once certain debts and legal expenses had been paid. But Temple soon found that he had no option but to sell the lands and houses he had just acquired in Berwick’. 10

Possibly in an attempt to recoup their losses, Anne Stow (now Temple) lent money to Fenwick Stow, Stow’s grand-father, for his precarious and ultimately calamitous business venture. In the summer of 1767 Fenwick heard that there had been crop failures in Spain and Italy and therefore ordered substantial quantities of wheat and rye from America for onward sale.  He lost £5,000 resulting in a deficit for William and Anne of £1,100. (It will be recalled that it was Fenwick Stow’s bankruptcy which caused his son William, father of David Stow, to move to Paisley.)

The Temple marriage came close to breaking point. In the event, they decided to stay together producing a total of eight children. Life improved when William was appointed to the vicarage of St Gluvius in Penrhyn in Cornwall with a living of over £300 a year and he produced one of his best books ‘Moral and Historical Memoirs 1779’.

James Boswell continued as a family friend and was one of the Godfathers at the baptism of their first child, William Johnson Temple. Boswell, however, never really liked Anne. ‘I was glad to turn my back on Mrs Temple, whose meanness of dress and manner and peevishness of temper quite disgusted me.’ In Temple’s letter to Boswell of 11th July 1792 he blames her peevishness from her ‘having been spoilt by her grandmother in girlhood, and her ‘incapacity of receiving satisfaction or pleasure. She hardly knows what an agreeable sensation is of any kind ….. Is not that person to be pitied who derives no satisfaction from conversation, nor from any of the pleasures of the sense? 11 Such criticism might have arisen, however, out of the Temple’s inability to help Boswell financially when he needed it. Boswell applied to William Johnson for support, but the Temples, as a result of Fenwick Stow’s bankruptcy, were in no position to give it.

Despite the documented difficulties in their marriage, when Anne died unexpectedly early in 1793 William was devastated. He wrote to Boswell two days after her death: ‘I never knew till now how dearly I loved her, more indeed than words can express. She had her failings (as we all have) but they were forgot in her many excellent and estimable qualities. Denying everything to herself, grudging nothing to others; temperate even to abstemiousness – naturally indolent, yet never deficient in what concerned her children and family; submitting to give pleasure, tho’ I fear little susceptible, perhaps, averse to it; wishing for no enjoyments but those we afforded her, and rather enduring company than deriving any satisfaction from it; frugal and retentive in matters of small moment, but truly generous when duty or propriety demanded it’. 12