British Isle Genealogy
 England, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man
   Wales, Channel Island, Isle of Wight

Matthew Lord Rokeby

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     In the year of grace 1883, there passed out of the roll of the living peerage of England a man who bore a title, and was also one of Nature's truest gentlemen, General Lord Rokeby. He was a G.C.B., and had seen good service in command of a brigade during the Russian war in the Crimea: and at the time of his death was not far from being at the top of the Army List. But one of the previous holders of the title was in his day even more a man of mark than the gallant officer ever pretended to be. His great uncle, Matthew Robinson, second Lord Rokeby, who died about the time of the general's birth, figured among the  'Eccentric Characters' of his day. A very few and slight departures from the common type of existence will suffice in this age of studied uniformity to stamp a man eccentric, and, in case of his having ill-natured and covetous relatives, even a lunatic, however harmless his vagaries may be. There is little doubt that in this year of grace an effort would have been made to place Matthew Lord Rokeby under restraint, and to have his steps dogged by a keeper, if not to shut him up in Bethlehem Hospital.
     And in what did his eccentricity consist? He bathed in the open air almost daily, winter and summer, and he wore a beard. The fathers of many persons now living remember the day when it was sought to have a man declared a lunatic because he had invested a part of his fortune in the shares of a gas company.  Mr. P. H. Muntz, within our own memory, was laughed at as a madman when, in 1840, he walked into the House of Commons wearing a beard on his chin. So there is no reason for wondering at the rash judgment passed on his Lordship of Rokeby a century ago.
     Born in 1712, and brought up at Westminster and at Cambridge, the subject of this sketch had an excellent education, and so successful were his studies, that he was chosen a Fellow of his college. That he inherited some talents may be inferred from the fact that he was a brother of the celebrated Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, the friend of Dr. Johnson and of the chimney sweeps the queen of the Blue-stocking Club, and one of the queens of society in her day. He was not born in the purple, or brought up to expect a coronet, for he was getting on well in years when, in 1771, the title of Lord Rokeby was conferred on his kinsman, the Archbishop of Armagh, with a special remainder in reversion to himself. No doubt he did not seek the coronet, and would have been glad to be without it, for he kept his Fellowship, traveled abroad, and then settled down as a bachelor to live a hermit life in a remote and unpicturesque district of Kent, in the neighborhood of Hythe, on a small property which he called Mount Morris. He sat in Parliament for a short time as one of the members for Canterbury; but he liked neither the Tories nor the Whigs. He was for giving the widest freedom to every living being, and would vote for no restrictions that could be avoided, whether in religion, in politics, or in trade. He hated war, and denounced the ministers and Court for going to war against France. In fact, at that time, when Pitt reigned in Downing Street, he must have been regarded as a Radical and a Socialist, or, if the word had then been coined, a  ‘Communist.’  So far, indeed, did he carry his love of freedom, that he extended it to the brute creation; and horses, mares, bulls, cows, sheep, goats, and dogs all ran about his park at their own free will, with manes and tails undocked, and following their own devices.
     Meantime their lord and master, who, possibly, had met with a disappointment in love in early life, rejoiced in the thought that, like Alexander Selkirk, he was  'monarch of all he surveyed.'  He had no incumbrance in the shape of a wife or child, to compel  him to fall in with the arbitrary laws and customs of society as then constituted, to dine at four, and go to bed regularly at ten, like good old George III. So he turned night into day, and was a-field in summer long before the sun was up, and walked about his grounds dressed like a farmer. When spied by a stranger, he would turn aside into a plantation and avoid his gaze; but as he had many resources and plenty of books, and was fond of experiments in chemistry and in practical agriculture, he contrived to spend his time pleasantly and profitably, and, in spite of his shyness and reserve, he liked the society of intelligent friends and neighbors.  Some few of the men of Dent, however, looked askance at him, and the ladies especially thought him a trifle 'uncanny;' but that was because he did not shave off that  'hirsute appendage, 'which, in his time, was confined to billy goats.  In the Eccentric Mirror, published in 1813, his portrait is given, and he is styled 'the only peer, and perhaps the only gentleman, in Great Britain, who has been distinguished in modern times by a venerable and flowing beard.'
     In the course of his early travels he had made acquaintance with the German baths, and had learned the value of cold water, whether externally or internally applied. In his grounds, therefore, he constructed a sort of summerhouse, or alcove, as it was then usually called, in which there was a bath supplied by a spring in the rear, and over which the glass was so placed as to catch and reflect the rays of the sun, and so raise the temperature of the water in winter.  Here in the summer he would lie for an hour or two at a time, taking a siesta and a plunge alternately.
     ‘His manners,’ writes a gentleman who visited him at Mount Morris, ‘approached to a primitive simplicity, but, though perfectly polite, he seemed in everything to study singularity . . . He treated those around him with frankness and liberality. His own diet consisted chiefly of beef-tea; wine and spirits he held in abhorrence. He would eat and drink nothing imported from abroad, holding that the products of the British Isles were, or ought to be, sufficient for the wants of all its inhabitants. On this principle he would touch neither tea nor coffee, and for sugar he would substitute his own native honey. He abhorred the fireside, except in very severe weather, and delighted in living almost wholly in the open air. An armchair was his special aversion: The fame of this strange gentleman, as may be imagined, spread far and wide, and visitors from distant parts would try all sorts of plans to get a sight of  'the old lord.' But he was not very easily ‘interviewed.' Indeed, so seldom was he seen, late in life, beyond his own park gates, that, when he walked to a neighboring town to give his vote, and stopped to lunch at the inn, the country people took him for  'a Turk or Mahomedan.'
     One visitor from a distance is said to have found his way to Mount Morris without a introduction. Prince William Frederick (afterwards Duke of Gloucester), happening to beat Canterbury, wrote to him expressing a wish to pay his lordship a passing visit, and Lord Rokeby accordingly asked him to dine at Mount Morris. On that occasion he conformed to the usages of society, presided at a well-stored board, and displayed all the hospitality of an English gentleman. Three courses were served up, and the dinner was followed by ‘dessert with excellent wines, including some fine Tokay, which had been in the house for half-a-century.'
     His cold bath and his abstemious habits served Lord Rokeby to the end of his long life in the place of doctors, whom he thoroughly detested. At all events it may be easily inferred that he enjoyed good health to the last when it is added that he died from no disease, but from a simple decay of Nature, at the age of nearly ninety, only a month before the end of last century. 

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

Search British Isles

British Isles Genealogy Records

Channel Islands Genealogy
England Genealogy
Ireland Genealogy
Isle of Man Genealogy
Scotland Genealogy
Wales Genealogy

Other Genealogy Records

Free Genealogy
British Isles Books
Genealogy Library
Canadian Genealogy
Genealogy Gateway
Family Tree Guide

Cyndi's List

Sites I Visit

Garden Herbs
Trade Recipes

Sip of Wine
The Little Tea Book

British Isles Genealogy


Add/Correct a Link


Comments/Submit Data


Copyright 2004-, the web pages may be linked to but shall not be reproduced on another site without written permission from BIGenealogy. Images may not be linked to in any manner or method. Anyone may use the information provided here freely for personal use only. If you plan on publishing your personal information to the web please give proper credit to our site for providing this information. Thanks!!!