“Aloysiam Beckford | Londini natam | nec dum trilustrem | Senis mortuam | Parentes hic disposuere | anno 1788.“
This simple inscription, just one among the hundreds at the Old English Cemetery of Livorno, was mysterious until a few days ago when I received one of those rare e-mails that have the power of shedding light on people and facts that seemed lost forever once.
Dr. Viviana Castelli, a seismology historian at the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), wrote me that she discovered what she believed to be a note regarding a young girl buried at the Old English Cemetery of Livorno on a manuscript journal at the Biblioteca Comunale degli Intronati of Siena.
The entry reads: “[1788 settembre 5] /La figlia maggiore della Famiglia Belforte [sic] è morta di tise, ed è stata mandata a Livorno nel giardino della nazione inglese/ Monsieur, e madame Belforte famiglia inglese è da due anni a questa parte che la medesima abita in Toscana l’estate a Siena, l’inverno a Pisa per causa che una delle due sue bimbe dava in tise, dopo varj, e replicati rimedi la maggiore di esse è morta del detto mal sottile, gli è stata fatta la sezione del cadavere, ed il medesimo imbalsamato per portarsi il detto cadavere nella città di Livorno ove vi è un giardino della nazione inglese a posta per seppellirvi tutti quelli che mojono in Toscana, e qualcuno ancora fuori di Toscana.” (Manuscript reference: Anton Francesco Bandini, Diario Senese (1788), Biblioteca comunale degli Intronati, Siena, ms. D.III.4, c. 112r.)
A crosscheck with the above inscription and the Chapel Register #2 (1784-1824) reveals that this young lady, wrongly named by the sienese diarist Belforte, is in fact Louisa Beckford, daughter of Peter Beckford, as we can read on her death act: “Louisa, daughter of P. Beckford Esq., died on the 2nd of Septr 1788 and was buried the day following by the Revd Mr Schulthesius during the absence of the Revd Thomas Hall Chaplain to this British Factory – Thos Hall“.
She died around the age of 15 years old (trilustrem, as per her inscription). This approximate information, together with the IGI Index, allowed me to find out that she was born on May 4th, 1774 in London and baptized on the 31st following in the church of Saint Mary-St Marylebone Road (IGI C035241), as the legitimate daughter of Peter and Louisa Beckford.
Dr. Castelli also pointed out two other names on my burials’ list for this cemetery: Louisa BECKFORD-RIVERS (1791) and Penelope RIVERS-ATKINS (1795), hypothesizing that these two women are connected and they are, in fact, one the daughter of the other, the first one being also the mother of Aloysia Beckford, as my further research confirmed.
Louisa BECKFORD-RIVERS is Aloysia’s mother. Born Louisa PITT around 1755, she married Peter BECKFORD on March 22nd, 1773 in Strathfield Saye, Hampshire and died in Florence, Italy on April 30th, 1791, being then buried in Livorno, close to her daughter.
Her inscriptions reads: “To the memory of the Honble | Louisa Beckford | daughter of the Rt Honble | George Lord Rivers who | after a long and painful | illness which she bore with | uncommon patience and | resignation departed this | life at Florence April | the 30th 1791 aged 35 years | This monument is erected | as a last token of conjugal | affection by Peter | Beckford of Stepleton (sic) | in the County of | Dorset Esquire“.
Joshua Reynolds made a portrait of her in 1782, about the same period in which she was having an affair with her husband’s cousin William Beckford (1760-1844), the well known author of Vathek (and with his wife Margaret GORDON, ancestor to Prince Ranieri of Monaco).
As we can read above, Louisa was a daughter of the British diplomat and politician George PITT (1721-1803), 1st Lord Rivers, and of Penelope ATKYNS (c.1725-1795) of the Baronets of Clapham family. There’s a portrait of Penelope Atkins Lady Rivers by Charles Spooner at the National Portrait Gallery of London.
Penelope died at Massa Carrara, Italy (cfr. Chapel Register #2. Ingamells says Milan) and was buried as well in Livorno. Her inscription reads: “Sacred | to the memory of the Rt Hon. | Penelope Rivers wife of the Rt Hon. George Lord Rivers | of Strathfieldsay in the | County of Southampton | and Lord Lieutenant of | the County of Dorset | ob. 1 Ianury [sic]1795 | ætatis 70“. Another of her daughters, also a Penelope PITT (1749-1827), married Lt.-Gen. Edward de LIGONNIER (1740-1782) and had a stormy love affair with the italian dramatist Vittorio ALFIERI.
Peter BECKFORD (1740-1809), the father of “Aloysia” and husband of Louisa PITT, was a writer, a huntsman and patron of the pianist-composer Muzio Clementi. He wrote a few books on hunting and also a two-volume book titled “Familiar letters from Italy, to a friend in England” (see his works on archive.org). A portrait of him by Pompeo Batoni is conserved in the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen. An interesting article on Peter and his family was pointed out to me by Dr. Castelli, for which I thank her again.
The Beckford family is a well known English colonial family established in Jamaica as planters since the XVIIth century. Peter’s father, Julines BECKFORD (c.1717-1765) had been a Sheriff of Dorset in 1749 and M.P. for Salisbury. He married Elizabeth ASHLEY, daughter of Salomon, M.P. for Bridport. Julines was a son of Peter BECKFORD Junior (1673-1735), the Speaker of the House of Assembly in Jamaica. Sir Benjamin West made a portrait of him and his wife Bathshua HERRING which was commissioned by his grandson William Thomas long after his death. Bathshua’s father, Julines, was the first Herring in Jamaica. His parents were Nathaniel HERRING (1610-1678) and Elizabeth COCKROFT (1629-1651), a descendant of the THROCKMORTON family whose uncle was Daniel OXENBRIDGE of Livorno.
Bathshua Herring-Beckford’s sister, Anne Maria, married Florentius VASSALL (d.1710), whose father, John, a colonel of a well known Boston family, settled in Jamaica in 1672. Leonard VASSALL (1678-1737), a brother of Florentius, is the ancestor of the VASSALL-RUSSELLs and the DEGENs established in Livorno.
Returning back to the Beckfords, Peter Jr. and Bathshua had 13 children among whom: William (1709-1770), Lord Mayor of London in 1762 and 1770 who married Maria HAMILTON, grand-daughter of the 6th Earl of Abercorn; Elizabeth (1725-1791) who married Thomas HOWARD, 2nd Earl of Effingham; Francis (d.1768) twice married, the first wife was Albinia BERTIE, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven, and the second one was Suzanna, daughter of Richard LOVE of Basing Park; Richard (d.1756), a barrister, Alderman of London and M.P. for Bristol, father of the sugar planter and historian William BECKFORD (1744-1799).
The father of Peter BECKFORD Jr. was Peter BECKFORD Sr. (1643-1710), Governor of Jamaica in 1702, where he first emigrated in 1662, probably following the footsteps of his uncle, Captain Richard Beckford, who was trading there since 1659. Beckford’s first wife was Bridget (d. 1671), the daughter of Sir William Beeston, a planter and governor of Jamaica from 1692 to 1702. His second wife, Anne, was a relative of Colonel Thomas Ballard, a leading planter. In the cathedral at Spanish Town, where he was buried, is a white marble slab in his memory, inscribed: “Here lyes Interr’d the body of the Honble. Coll. Peter Beckford, late Presidt. of the Councill, sometime Lieut. Govr. and Commander in Chief of this Island, who departed this life the 3rd Apr. 1710 in the 67th year of his age.”
To see the updated family tree click here -> BECKFORD (Geneanet)
Here are some of the portraits related to the Beckford family:
Check also: Jamaican connections in Livorno (#1).