Tag Archives: George Edwards Peacock

Can a thief be trusted to record the temperature?

George Edwards Peacock, meteorological observer at the New South Wales Government’s South Head weather station between 1841 and 1856, had arrived in Sydney as a convict in May 1837. (See the entry for 28/3/2011.) His trial, conviction and transportation were undoubtedly traumatic for a family that had reason to look upon itself as highly respectable.

George’s father, Daniel Mitford Peacock, had been a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a first-class degree in mathematics in 1791. Not only was he among that élite group of students, called ‘Wranglers’, but he was ‘senior Wrangler,’ having gained the highest marks in the examination. Accordingly he was one of the two recipients in that year of Smith’s Prize, awarded for excellence in mathematics and natural philosophy (physics).

A biographical note in a dictionary published in 1816 (with reference to 1814) records that Daniel had the degree of M.A., was a Fellow of Trinity College, was ‘one of the preachers at Whitehall,’ and was the author of Considerations on the Structure of the House of Commons (1794) and a Pamphlet against the Conductors of the Critical Review. His other works include The Principles of Civil Obedience, Laid down by Locke and Paley, Analyzed and Confronted with the Doctrine of Scripture, in a Sermon, Preached before the Judges of the Assizes at Durham, July 26, 1815; and Remarks on the Essentials of a Free Government, and on the Genuine Constitution of the British House of Commons, in Answer to the Theories of Modern Reformers, Cambridge, 1817, a work based on Montesquieu’s L’esprit des Loix. In these two works the author, Rev. D.M. Peacock, is stated to be (with some variation of wording) Rector of Great Stainton (or Staynton), Durham, Vicar of Sedbergh, Yorkshire, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Two years later appeared his treatise on A Comparative View of the Principles of the Fluxional and Differential Calculus, Cambridge, 1819.

Rev. Daniel Mitford Peacock became rector of the Parish of Stainton in 1812. He purchased part of the estate at Great Stainton from the Marquess of Londonderry in 1823. In 1835 he sold it to John Lord Eldon, who had acquired the rest of the estate from the Marquess of Londonderry in 1826.

Mathematical ability ran in the family. We find Mitford Peacock (1800-1828), Daniel’s eldest son, of Bene’t College, Cambridge, as ‘second Wrangler’ and recipient of Dr. Smith’s Prize in 1822. Mitford became a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, gained his M.A. (year uncertain), and took holy orders, but died young, at Hastings on 20 May 1828. His epitaph records him as ‘Elder son of the Rev. D.M. Peacock Rector of / Great Stainton in the County of Durham.’ He died in ‘the 28th year of his age.’ ‘Christian meekness, and humility, purity and modesty, / Truth and sincerity, uncompromising integrity, active benevolence, and a tenderness for the feelings of others / Bespoke the blessed influence of religion in his heart / throughout life; he died in single reliance on the / Merits and Meditation of the Redeemer our / Lord Jesus Christ.’

It was against this background of intellectual and ecclesiastical eminence and respectability that George Edwards Peacock fell. In 1835 he used a power of attorney to appropriate money belonging to his brother Rev. Edwards Peacock (1804-1895). Accused and found guilty, he was fortunate to escape a death sentence, which was commuted to transportation. As a convict in New South Wales he was fortunate again in gaining honourable and steady employment as a meteorological observer and compiler at the South Head weather station in Sydney. After the weather station closed in 1856 he became clerk to a prominent solicitor, Montagu Consett Stephen, son of Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen. But in November of that year he was charged with stealing over 200 pounds from the funds of the solicitor. He disappeared and (it has been shown) escaped to England, where he lived under another family surname, Cust, until his death at York in 1873.

Are we to understand that such a man, shown to have been conspicuously deceitful in matters of money and personal trust, was nevertheless unwaveringly reliable in being on hand, four times a day, day after day, over a period of fifteen years, to observe and record with fastidious care, perhaps through an inherited capacity for mathematical precision, details of temperature and air pressure, dew point, rainfall, wind direction and strength, and general features of the weather, on which official, public and scientific judgments could be confidently based?

Daniel Mitford Peacock, Justice of the Peace: Accounts and Papers, vol. 7: Relating to Courts of Law; Juries; Elections; &c.: Session: 4 February – 20 August 1836, 1836, Justices of Peace [List of Persons Appointed to Act as Justices of the Peace, in England and Wales], County of York, North Riding, at p. 83; biography: A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland, London, Colburn, 1816, p. 265; rector of Stainton: Durham Diocesan Records, Letters testimonial (admissions), letter of 19/2/1812, to Stainton-le-Street rectory; British History Online, Parish of Stainton; estate at Great Stainton: British History Online, Stainton. Mitford Peacock, second Wrangler: The New Monthly Magazine, 1/3/1822, Varieties, at p. 113; death: The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 98, June 1828, Obituary, Clergy Deceased, at p. 571; epitaph: St Helens, Ore, Monumental Inscriptions, 25/07/2004, Bedford Memorial Program, Memorial Inscriptions for Old Parish of St Helens, Ore, in the County of East Sussex. Col Fullagar, ‘The Life and Disappearance of George Edwards Peacock’, Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7 [pdf].