Captain Thomas ASHE (83rd Foot Regiment)
- Born: 15 Jul 1770, Glassniven, Dublin, Ireland
- Died: 17 Dec 1835, Bath, Somerset, England aged 65
Extract from "Memoirs and Confessions of Captain Ashe: Vol. I" by Captain Thomas Ashe (1815)
My father descended from the distinguished hero, Lovet Ashe, and, in imitation of him, he commenced a career of arms; distinguished himself at the siege of Belle-Isle, and retired upon half-pay, on the establishment of the regiment of Rufane, with the reputation of being a humane man and a gallant soldier. Previously to the reduction of his regiment, he married Margaret Hickman, a co-heiress, whose estates lay in the county of Clare, to a considerable extent, and who was nearly allied to the Earl of Inchiquin, the Masseys, Stackpoles, Fitzgeralds, and other families of equal distinction and worth. This union was productive of eleven children, of whom I am the third son.
As I grew up, I experienced little attention from my father, but my mother neglected nothing that might contribute to my education; and I believe she had the satisfaction to observe that I answered the fondest expectations of her tender and generous heart. The novitiate of this instruction was at Glassniven, a village near Dublin, in which I was born on the fifteenth of July, 1770, and it continued under the paternal roof, at a country seat of my father's, called Asheville, near Limerick, till it was found proper to send me to a public school in the year 1783.
Captain Thomas Ashe was a sort of literary Jack-of-all-Trades, and author of some twenty works on various subjects, and during his residence in the Isle of Man wrote and published there, "The Manks Monastery; or Memoirs of Belville and Julia." He was of an Irish family, and died in poverty in 1835. He was the author of " The Hermit in York." Hull 1823. Square 12mo. Pp. 123. Only a few copies printed.
Thomas Ashe, soldier of fortune, was born July 15, 1770, in Glasnevin, near Dublin, and was one of twelve children. Often referred to as "Capt. Ashe," his earliest military service was of short duration, for his regiment revolted and was disbanded. Later he claimed to have served with the French, Austrian, and Canadian armies.
Hopping from country to country in Europe ahead of his creditors, he was jailed in Bordeaux for wounding in a duel the brother of a woman he had seduced. On his return to Ireland he was caught in flagrante delicto with the mistress of Lord Westmoreland, but this time he was jailed for debt. After embezzling £8,000 as an army commission agent he found it prudent to put the Atlantic between himself and his adversaries. During a North American residence of two years, he traveled down the Ohio River under the assumed name of D'Arville carrying a bundle of forged letters of introduction. In Cincinnati, he "purchased" from Dr. William Goforth a large paleontological collection which the latter had laboriously dug up at nearby Big Bone Lick. Goforth never received the payment promised him, but the collection eventually found its way to the Liverpool Museum, providing the first mammoth bones exhibited in Britain.
When published in 1808, Ashe's Travels in America caused a sensation in the Ohio Valley because of its abrasive comments on the rudeness of people and the crudeness of their society. Although replete with factual errors, such as Ashe's belief that kangaroos ranged the American forests, the book did contain valuable observations on the author's encounters with Indians, and it is no worse than other travel books from the same writer, such as that on Brazil published four years later.
After being jailed again in Brazil, Ashe returned to England, where he embarked on a new career as blackmailer. In his three-volume Memoirs and Confessions (1815) he boasted that he now "pursued such a life of literary prostitution as is perhaps unparalleled in the history of letters." This began with a scurrilous memoir of Lady Berkeley, which he promised not to publish if she would pay him £1,000; he settled for 500 guineas, then sold the manuscript for £200. It was this manuscript, coming to light a century and a half later, that caused Eric Korn to begin the investigation which overturns much of the bland narrative about Ashe in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Ashe published several novels as well, one of them appropriately titled Soldier of Fortune (1816). According to the DNB, he died in Bath December 17, 1835, "in rather indigent circumstances."
Source: Ashe, Thomas. Memoirs and Confessions of Captain Ashe. London: Henry Colburn, 1815; Korn, Eric. "The Life and Times of a Regency Blackmailer." [London] Times Literary Supplement, April 24, 1992, pp. 13-14; Dictionary of National Biography.
Poor Tom Thy Horn Is Dry
John Arden's new play written for BBC Radio 3 is based on the three volumes of the 'Memoirs and Confessions of Captain Ashe'.
It tells the extraordinary story of Thomas Ashe - the Tipperary born Protestant - from his early days, brought up among the impoverished Irish gentry in 1787, up to his exile in France in 1815 and stretches across three continents.
Thomas Ashe was more than just a soldier, much more. He was a clerk, tradesman, teacher, sailor, murderer, embezzler, explorer, impersonator, political propagandist, 'hack' journalist, plagiarist, blackmailer, lover and writer!
Ashe's memoirs may have been exaggerated but he was undoubtedly a man of considerable energy, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit - credited with being the first man to bring mammoth bones back to Britain. In the play, he believes in 'the main chance', especially if it means making money, and is not unduly modest - 'excessively clever that's me,' he says.
However, he's shown not just to be a reprobate and scoundrel but a man who was also sensitive to the 'punitive slaughter' of the Irish at Vinegar Hill and haunted by both the more radical revolutionary Irish nationalism of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his own desertion of his mulatto, American slave wife.
Ashe is a survivor amidst the violence of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, even if it means being a turncoat! 'A parasite upon civilisation even if civilisation was all but dissolved'. A man of self belief and a desire for notoriety, he has numerous affairs - with an Irish milkmaid, the French daughter of a wine merchant, a bloodthirsty German Baroness, a Navy Captain's wife - and is also caught in flagrante delicto with the mistress of the Lord Lieutenant of Dublin! However, as he gets older and his era starts fading, he struggles to survive, and comes up against the full force of the government, who look to stop his provocative articles and extortionate methods.
The play explores the lively life of this gentleman vagabond in a unique mixture of prose, verse and ballad to conjure up an imaginative vision of a highly unusual man and his times.
Extract from "FIFTY YEARS' RECOLLECTIONS, LITERARY AND PERSONAL, WITH OBSERVATIONS ON MEN AND THINGS." BY CYRUS REDDING (1858)
I received a letter, while at Bath, from one Ashe, who called himself 'late a captain in the York Rangers.' He had suddenly made his appearance there, an unprincipled forger of books, such as "Travels in America," where he was charged with running away and carrying off a collection of mammoth bones, belonging to Dr. Goforth, a laborious collector. This book was no more than a compilation from different local guides. He had formerly published a fictitious work, regarding Queen Caroline, called "The Spirit of the Book," affecting to be the substance of that book which Spencer Percival drew up, in behalf of the Queen, and afterwards sacrificed, with his client, to court interests. He wrote false memoirs of living people, to get paid for their suppression. One of these, I remember, was "Memoirs of the Countess of Berkeley;" another was called "The Claustral Palace." It was unlucky for him that I knew his history, and that he was a notorious scoundrel, who had attempted, not long before, to victimise the Duke of Cumberland, and to extort money from him. He abused the Mayor of Bath, who was a kind, gentlemanly man, and then wrote a most pathetic letter, wanting to have inserted in the paper an appeal to the public on his behalf. I refused, letting him know I was too well acquainted with his career. Two days after, I heard of his sudden decease. Among a mass of editorial papers, relating to the "New Monthly," I discovered a similar letter to that thus subsequently sent to me at Bath, dated from the Isle of Man, ten years before! I have these letters yet by me.
Letter from Lord Byron to Thomas Ashe, 14 December 1813:
"SIR, I leave town for a few days to-morrow: on my return, I will answer your letter more at length. Whatever may be your situation, I cannot but commend your resolution to abjure and abandon the publication and composition of works such as those to which you have alluded. Depend upon it, they amuse few, disgrace both reader and writer, and benefit none. It will be my wish to assist you, as far as my limited means will admit, to break such a bondage. In your answer, inform me what sum you think would enable you to extricate yourself from the hands of your employers, and to regain at least temporary independence, and I shall be glad to contribute my mite towards it. At present, I must conclude. Your name is not unknown to me, and I regret, for your own sake, that you have ever lent it to the works you mention. In saying this, I merely repeat your own words in your letter to me, and have no wish whatever to say a single syllable that may appear to insult your misfortunes. If I have, excuse me; it is unintentional.
Letter from Lord Byron to Thomas Ashe, 5 January 1814:
"SIR, When you accuse a stranger of neglect, you forget that it is possible business or absence from London may have interfered to delay his answer, as has actually occurred in the present instance. But to the point. I am willing to do what I can to extricate you from your situation. Your first scheme* I was considering; but your own impatience appears to have rendered it abortive, if not irretrievable. I will deposit in Mr. Murray's hands (with his consent) the sum you mentioned, to be advanced for the time at ten pounds per month.
P.S. I write in the greatest hurry, which may make my letter a little abrupt; but, as I said before. I have no wish to distress your feelings."
Extract from "Dictionary of National Biography" by Sir Leslie Stephen (1885)
ASHE, THOMAS (1770-1835), novelist and miscellaneous writer, traced his descent from the younger branch of a family whose ancestors accompanied William the Conqueror to England. A cadet of this younger branch served with William of Orange in Ireland, and obtained one of the forfeited Irish estates. Ashe was the third son of a half-pay officer, and was born at Glasnevin, near Dublin, 15 July 1770. He received a commission in the 83rd regiment of foot, which, however, was almost immediately afterwards disbanded, whereupon he was sent to a counting-house at Bordeaux. There he suffered a short imprisonment for wounding in a duel a gentleman whose sister he had seduced, but, the wound not proving fatal, the prosecution was not persisted in. Returning to Dublin, he was appointed secretary to the Diocesan and Endowed Schools Commission, but, getting into debt, resigned his office and retired to Switzerland. He then spent several years in foreign travel, living, according to his own account (Memoirs and Confessions, 3 vols. 1815), in a free and unconstrained fashion, and experiencing a somewhat chequered fortune. Besides recording in his ' Memoirs ' his impressions of the countries he visited, he published separately * Travels in America in 1806,' 1808 ; ' Memoirs of Mammoth and other Bones found in the vicinity of the Ohio,' 1806; and ' A Commercial and Geographical Sketch of Brazil and Madeira,' 1812. He was also the author of several novels, including the 'Spirit of the Book,' 1811, 4th edition 1812 ; the ' Liberal Critic, or Henry Percy,' 1812: and the 'Soldier of Fortune',' 1816. In his later years Ashe was in rather indigent circumstances. He died at Bath 17 Dec. 1835.
Extract from the "Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette" dated Saturday, 7 August 1830
Captain Ashe, who is Newgate, charged with writing a threatening letter to the Duke of Cumberland, published his confessions some years ago. One anecdote which he gives of himself represents him to have written a book, reflecting on an attorney on whom he had reason to complain, whom he called "the legal vulture", and to have sent the MS to the attorney, requesting him to obtain a sum of money for it for him, which was accordingly procured for him.
Extract from "Bell's Weekly Messenger" dated Sunday, 19 September 1830
Yesterday Thomas Ashe was tried at the Old Bailey, charged with having sent a threatening letter to his Roral Highness the Duke of Cumberland. The prisoner, it appeared, had written a book, which he sent to the Duke of Cumberland, and offered to suppress it on the payment of a specified sum. His Royal Highness, however, declining to do anything of the sort, received a letter, the writer of which threatened that, if his demands were not complied with, he would act the part of a Fenton or Bellingham. There being, however, no person called to prove the hand-writing of the prisoner, the learned Judge said, as there was no evidence to prove that fact, the prisoner must be acquitted. The jury therefore returned a verdict of Not Guilty.
Extract from the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, dated Thursday, 31 December 1835
Dec. 17, at his lodgings in Philip Street, at an advanced age, Thomas (the well-known Captain) Ashe, author of "The Spirit of the Book", "Ashe's Confessions", etc.
Extract from the "Carlisle Journal" dated Saturday, 9 January 1836
Captain Ashe, known as the author of "The Spirit of the Book", and other publications, died last week at Bath, at an advanced age. "His whole life," says a provincial Journal, "was one continued series of struggles with misfortune, and he ended his days in utter destitution and want."
Extract from "Records of the Ashe Family" by Waller Ashe (1876)
Captain Thomas Ashe died unmarried.
Note by Robert Ashe: Waller Ashe recorded that Thomas Ashe died unmarried. However, in a long article, published in Bell's Messenger dated Sunday, 1 August 1830, relating to his trial at the Old Bailey (see above), it is stated that he was taken into custody "at his lodgings, 17 King Street, Kensington, where he was living in a miserable way with his wife". This article is the only reference that I have found, which states that he had a wife.
In addition, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated Friday, 11 July 1856, carried an article about the manuscript, written by Captain Thomas Ashe, about the Duke of Cumberland. This article has the following sentence: "His daughters, most elegant young women, who visited him once during his imprisonment, so sorrowfully described to me the fatal errors of his life, that there was no doubt he had forsaken the path of honour, in which he was gifted to shine, under the vain hope of advancing his interests by chicanery and inventive rascality."
Thus, we can assume that he was married and had children.