Tag Archives: Meteorology

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].

George Edwards Peacock: lawyer, convict, meteorological observer, artist

George Edwards Peacock is included as a landscape painter in the Dictionary of Australian Artists Online. The dictionary article (1992, revised 1992-2003) records that he was baptised in Sedbergh, Yorkshire, on 4 September 1806. He was ‘younger son’ of Rev. Daniel Mitford Peacock, vicar of Sedbergh, and his wife Catherine, née Edwards (hence George’s middle name). He was educated at Sedbergh School and became a solicitor (February 1830). But he experienced financial difficulties and ‘forged a power of attorney for transfer of stock valued at £7,814, the property of his brother, Rev. Edwards George Peacock.’ He was tried at the Old Bailey and sentenced to death (11 September 1836), but the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney (on the Prince George) on 8 May 1837 and was sent to Port Macquarie. He had married in England, and his wife and son (their names are not given) joined him in Port Macquarie three months after his arrival and then by 1839 moved to Sydney, where George was allowed to join them. He had been a clerk at Port Macquarie; in Sydney, after training under the government astronomer James Dunlop, he became a meteorological observer at the government weather station on the South Head of Port Jackson, living alone in a cottage nearby (his marriage broke up). He also took up painting and became known for his views of the harbour and other subjects. In December 1845 he received a conditional pardon (which required him to remain in the colony). ‘After the South Head weather station closed in 1856, official records make no further mention of Peacock and it is not known where or when he died.’ The article gives details of his painting career.

In 2002 the State Library of New South Wales produced George Edwards Peacock in the Picture Gallery: Guide. The Library has more than forty of his paintings. He is described as ‘the youngest son of the Reverend Daniel Mitford Peacock.’ The date of his conditional pardon is given as June 1846. ‘What happened to him after 1856 is a mystery: not even the date or place of his death is known.’

On 12 December 2003 the ABC’s 7.30 Report broadcast a segment on Col Fullagar, an insurance broker who ‘spends his spare time travelling around the country, documenting and even cleaning the grave sites of notable artists from Australia’s past.’ On Col Fullagar’s website, Last Resting Place of Australian Artists, a search for George Edwards Peacock now yields the information that he died on 23 January 1875;

Appears to have returned to England, changed name to George CUST and died in 1875. Buried in unmarked grave at York Cemetery, England.

In an article published in Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7, Col Fullagar tells the story of how he discovered George’s fate.

The State Library of New South Wales Guide cites: Garry Darby, ‘Peacock, George Edwards’ in Joan Kerr (ed.), The Dictionary of Australian Artists 1770-1870, Sydney, Oxford University Press, 1992; Mitchell Library Pictures Research Notes PXn 90; Old Bailey Session Papers 1836 (eleventh session), London, 1837, pp. 751-757. Col Fullagar, ‘The Life and Disappearance of George Edwards Peacock’, Bonhams & Goodman, Auction News 4.2, October 2008, p. 7 [pdf]. New South Wales Reports of Crime for Police Information [1856-1862], 17 November 1856.