Entertaining Pattles

Entertaining Pattles

Julia Stephen was born into a family who loved to entertain and to socialise. Their lives revolved around convivial dinner and tea parties, games, conversation and gossip. They valued fine wines, good food and congenial company. Her great-great-grandfather, Captain Thomas Pattle, her great-grandfather, Thomas Pattle, and her grandparents, James and Adeline Pattle, all entertained on a grand scale in their luxurious town and country houses in India, England and in France. 

It was an attitude inherited by Julia from her Pattle forebears, which she bequeathed to her children. Virginia Woolf acknowledged that: 

This social side is very genuine in me. […] It is a piece of jewellery I inherit from my mother – a joy in laughter, something that is stimulated, not selfishly wholly or vainly, by contact with my friends.1

The same hospitable, warm, voluble, gatherings of friends and family, and pleasure in good conversation and lively gossip, would have been seen around the, more modestly sized, tables at Monks House and Charleston. 

The following brief fragments give an insight into Julia’s ancestors’ fabulous social lives. They were constantly travelling and moving homes, so these extracts cover a wide time period and geographical range. They had huge extended families many of whom were confusingly called Thomas, and their stories link to those told about other relatives in the first four chapters of the biography. Please follow the links and also see James Pattle, Select family tree, to keep track of them. 

Thomas Pattle (1748-1818) entertaining in India

Julia’s great-grandfather, Thomas Pattle, was a noted convivial and generous host. Thomas lived in India from 1765-1779 and again from 1795-1812. The gossip was that he made a fortune during his first period of working in India which he then spent funding his lifestyle in London and at his country house in Epsom. He then resorted to returning to India to make a second fortune. Given the luxury in which he was living in all of these places these rumours could have been correct!

For much of his second period in India Thomas was Senior Judge at Murshidabad, where he lived in grandiose style at his house in the town and at his country house at Champapoka nearby (see Biography Chapter 3). 

Many of Thomas and Sarah Pattles’ guests would be travellers breaking their journey up and down the Ganges between the various EIC stations or regimental headquarters. In November 1805, they were visited by their nephew Charles Becher. He was accompanied by a young friend, Lieutenant John Pester, heading for Calcutta and a ship home for a well-deserved period of sick leave. Pester was a particularly welcome guest as he had been in the Bengal Infantry with the Pattles’ son Henry, when the East India Company’s forces were fighting against the forces of the Marathan Empire.2 Sadly Henry Pattle, only 20, died in a bizarre accident, recorded by Pester in his diary:3

Feb 13 1803

The fire was extremely heavy all this day at Bidgie Ghur, and by a letter from Shipton of the artillery to Hammond we were given to understand that the place would be stormed in the morning. 

We had a tremendous hurricane this afternoon. It came on while we were relieving the guard at the southern gate. Poor Pattle of the cavalry, with his groom, took shelter under a wall, which unfortunately was blown down upon them, and they were both killed with their horses on the spot.

Thomas and Sarah Pattle had at least two, and possibly three, houses in and near Murshidabad. It was here that their daughter Sophia celebrated her marriage to James Gardiner in 1803, and their daughter Elizabeth her marriage to Robert Mitford in 1804. Their son James was also working there and he and Adéline de L’Étang were married nearby at Bhaugulpore.

1. Left: The Pattles’ house at Champapoka, just outside Murshidabad. Aquatint by Thomas Daniell, 1804. The house was originally called Felicity Hall, by its previous owner and designer the Hon. David Anstruther.  2. Right: Front View of the same house, anonymous watercolour, 1795.

John Pester recorded details of his visit to the Pattles. He was, not surprisingly, very impressed by their lavish lifestyle: 

Nov. 30 1805.

At one o’clock we came in sight of Moorshadabad; the city is one of the most extensive in India, and is situated on each side of the river. About four we were hailed from the shore by some hircarahs [messengers/servants] of Mr. Pattle’s, and at a ghaut [a landing place with steps up to the shore] near the Nabob’s we found a curricle waiting to carry us to Mr. Pattle’s house. We dressed immediately, and I drove Becher to the house (about five miles from our boats), where we arrived long before dinner. The house and grounds by moonlight seemed most delightful, and the former one of the most splendid I ever saw – upon an immense scale, and superbly furnished. The dining and drawing rooms were fifty feet long, and built in proportion. Nothing could exceed the splendour of this place, and at dinner we were regaled with champagne, hock, claret and Madeira. Mr. and Mrs. Mitford (daughter of Mrs. Pattle) dined here this evening, and we kept much later hours than we had been accustomed to in the Upper Provinces. I was made particularly welcome here – not only on account of Becher being a nephew of Mr. Pattle, but a son of the latter having been a shipmate and a great friend of mine. 

Dec. 1.

Instead of seven, we did not get up till nine o’clock this morning. I went round the grounds, which put me more in mind of a gentleman’s estate in England than anything I could have expected in India. In the evening Mr. Pattle and Becher went in one phaeton, and I had the honour of driving a Miss Fowler (a visitor at Pattle’s) in a second phaeton, with two of the most beautiful blood-like mares the country afforded. The roads in the neighbourhood of Moorshadabad are capital, and we did not come in from our drive till after seven o’clock (two hours after the moon got up). We did not dine till eight. Mr. Pattle had been, previous to his coming out the last time to India, in the Directory [he was a Director of the EIC in London]; at home he lived for many years in a most princely style, and spent an immense fortune. On quitting his Directorship, he returned again to the service to make a second. He has three sons in the Civil Service, and the fourth came out a cadet when I did. 

Dec. 5.

This forenoon I went through Mr. Pattle’s stables, in which were no less than seven pairs of carriage horses, besides some of the best bred saddle horses in India. A European coachman, and a very smart fellow, had the direction of the whole but the grooms under him were numerous, and everything was kept in superior style. Mr. Pattle had, of various descriptions, upwards of one hundred and twenty servants, and everything corresponded in a style of elegance seldom equalled in India even.

Dec. 10.

At dinner to-day we had a party of nearly thirty, a very pleasant day. Lots of champagne, claret, hock, port, and Madeira. We went to the drawing room before ten, when the singing and playing commenced. […] About twelve we went below to supper, and one of the pleasantest parties I ever met broke up early in the morning.

3. ‘South front of Mr Pattle’s House Champapoka, Murshidabad, 1790-1800’ Watercolour. Unknown artist.

Dec. 11.

At five we left the house to dine at Mr. Pattle’s house in the city of Moorshadabad. We did not arrive till after dark, the distance being full seven miles, and through the city we were obliged to drive slowly, the streets being much crowded with people. Mr. Pattle’s house in the town was extremely neat and very handsomely furnished. In the drawing room stood a picture at full length of Lord Wellesley, and a very good likeness. We had a very excellent, snug dinner, but the servants contrived to forget to bring any champagne, at which our hospitable host was much displeased. After taking each our bottle of claret, we got into the palanquins to pay Rajah Davi Sing a visit, and an entertainment was prepared by the rajah on our account. He received us at his outer gate, where we went through the ceremony of embracing, etc., etc., after which we were ushered up to an immense room, very handsomely lighted up, and well furnished after the Indian style, with couches, very rich, and some of the finest lustres I ever saw. As soon as we were seated they commenced offering their presents. We received about £25 each in cash, and a very handsome hookah with superb apparatus. The singing commenced about eleven, and after it a kind of pantomime. The singing-girls, which in general have some very pretty women in each set, were not so desirable as might have been expected on such an occasion, and in such a city as Moorshadabad. We supped at twelve on very excellent fruit, and some good claret was also provided for us, but of it we only took but a small quantity. After supper a range of venetians were thrown open, and a grand display of fireworks were played off in the elegant garden beneath us; they exceeded any I had ever seen, and were the very best that could be procured. The evening finished with a sort of play, and about two we left Rajah Davi Sing’s, and got home at half past.

Dec. 13.

We breakfasted at eight this morning, and at ten we took our leave of our worthy and hospitable host. 

John Pester continued down the Ganges to Calcutta and then on the Cumberland, via St Helena, back to England, arriving there on August 30th 1806. 

The Pattle dinner service with the coat of arms

An indication of the Pattles’ lavish hospitality and what their dining table would have looked like, is suggested by items of the dinner service left to family members in Thomas Pattle’s will when he died in 1818 (see Biography, Chapter 3).

Two items in Thomas Pattle’s will are described as bearing his coat of arms: the ‘largest silver waiter’ [large serving tray] inherited by James and Adeline Pattle,  and the ‘dinner set or service of China’ inherited by his sister Elizabeth Mitford. The China dinner service and the silver servers and other plate almost certainly came from his time in India and could well have been on the vast tables at the Murshidabad houses. 

In his early days in India, Thomas Pattle had been employed by his father’s friend Francis Sykes. Sykes had a similar, though earlier career path, spending two periods in Bengal, including in the EIC factory at Cossimbazar and at Murshidabad between 1751 and 1769, before returning to buy an estate in Yorkshire. Like Thomas later, he then returned for another period in Bengal after which he retired to England to buy more estates including, Basildon Park, now owned by the National Trust (see Biography Chapter 1). On display there is the huge amount of porcelain and silver all bearing his coat of arms. These were almost certainly transported for him, with the assistance of Thomas Pattle, on the Speke, which his father, Captain Thomas Pattle, then owned.4 Both Captain Thomas, and son Thomas, could also have been importing vast dinner and tea services and armorial plate for themselves. Thomas was himself a Company merchant in Canton in 1778 not long before returning to India and then to England.

Sykes was entitled to a coat of arms. It would be fascinating to know what armorial design Thomas Pattle chose. He was almost certainly not entitled to one and there is no record of it in the College of Arms. He could have appropriated the insignia of the East India Company, which was put on porcelain and silver being used for formal business events, or he could have been engaging in the same reinvention of identity and status as had the Chevalier. In this he was not alone. It has been estimated that in the eighteenth century more than half of all East India Company directors, captains, and supercargoes5 purchased the very fashionable armorial dinner and tea services which were being imported into India from China.6 Sykes and Thomas could well have commissioned a Free Mariner such as George Jackson (see Biography Chapter 1), who would take a design sketched by the purchaser to skilled Chinese copyists in Canton and transport the finished decorated porcelain back to Bengal. 

The Diana, a country ship belonging to John Palmer, the ‘Richest East India Merchant,’ and business associate of John and William Prinsep, sadly sank in 1817. This was in the notorious Straits of Malacca, which John Pope, on the Princess Royal in the same waters, described as ‘the region of storms. Squalls – whirlwinds – thunder lightning and rain [which] succeed each other so rapidly as to be quite harassing to the ships’ crew’.7 When the Diana was salvaged in the 1990s among her cargo of tea, sugar, silk, nankeen and other goods were thousands of pieces of porcelain: plates, bowls, serving dishes, cups, ginger jars were found, many intact.8

Captain Thomas Pattle (1710-1788) dinner parties in France

In 1775, Julia’s great-great-grandfather, Captain Thomas Pattle, left London and went to live in France where he stayed for the rest of his life. He arrived just after the coronation of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and of the appointment of the young Chevalier de L’Étang to the King’s Bodyguards (see Biography Chapter 2).

He was a very rich, well-connected man living in great style and luxury. Gatherings round his dinner table, which would probably have been spread with porcelain and silver acquired from China and India, seem to have set the standards for the rest of the family through the generations. 

6. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

His friends included some of the most renowned people of the day. Jeremiah Bentham and his son Jeremy, the famous, eccentric, philosopher and radical social reformer, were guests at his grand Parisian town house in the prestigious Place Royale, now renamed the Place des Vosges. He also had a country estate just outside Paris. Jeremy Bentham wrote to his father that, ‘I scribble in haste from Mr. Pattle’s Country house at Argenteuil, formerly the house of the Marquis du Chatelet, and residence of Voltaire’.9

On 17 June 1786 his dinner guests included Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs Philadelphia Hancock, and her daughter Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide.10

7. Tysoe Saul Hancock, his wife, Philadelphia, daughter Elizabeth and Indian maid Clarinda by Joshua Reynolds c.1763-5, originally titled George Clive and Family. 

The young Philadelphia, orphaned and impoverished, had joined the ‘fishing fleet’ and gone to Calcutta in 1752, looking for a husband. She married Tysoe Saul Hancock, a surgeon with the EIC. It is probable that the Pattles and Hancocks first met there. The Hancocks were also great friends of Warren Hastings, then Governor General of Bengal, who was Eliza’s godfather, and by many accounts her natural father. There must have been some lively conversation. 

Eliza de Feuillide wrote detailed letters of life in Paris at this time, but the happy social times there were soon to come to an end. Captain Thomas Pattle died in Paris in 1788 just before the Revolution. Though he left a very rich legacy, it was more than 40 years before his descendants had full restitution for his property confiscated at that time. Eliza’s husband, Jean-Francois Capot de Feuillide, was sent to the guillotine 22 February 1794. She later married Jane Austen’s brother, Henry.

8. Eliza de Feuillide (1761-1813) Author and both cousin and sister-in-law of Jane Austen.

What happened to the dinner service and silver inherited from his father, and possibly grandfather, by James Pattle and his sister? Virginia Woolf was just one of the people trying to track it down:     

Oh the old Pattles! They’re always bursting out of their casks. If you read the Amberley Papers you’ll find them popping up again. And suddenly the other day a faded Pattle relic, aged about 90, wrote to me from Somerset, and said she had the china out of which my grandmother drank at Calcutta – the lovely one who fled from France. 11

Woolf’s grasp on her genealogy is adrift here, but she is probably thinking of her great-great-grandmother Thérèse de L’Étang. However according to the editorial footnote, the ‘faded Pattle relic’ was Marian Pattle, grand-daughter of General Thomas Pattle, James’s brother. So it is possible that she did at some point have items from the Pattle dinner services. But where they are now, and what coat of arms is on them, is still to be discovered.

Marion Dell
April 2021

Picture credits

  1. The Pattles’ house at Champapoka. © The British Library Board. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/largeimage69486.html (accessed 22/04/21).
  2. Front View of the same house. © The British Library Board. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/addorimss/f/019addor0003195u00000000.html (accessed 22/04/21).
  3. South Front of Mr Pattle’s House, Champapoka, Murshidabad, 1790-1800. © British Library Board. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/addorimss/a/largeimage55020.html (accessed 29/03/21).
  4. Wrapping Porcelain in rice straw and packing in tubs c.1770 – 1790, artist unknown. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O85401/wrapping-porcelain-in-rice-straw-painting-unknown/ (accessed 22/04/2021).
  5. Packing the Porcelain, c.1825. Peabody Essex Museum, Massachussetts. https://www.meisterdrucke.uk/fine-art-prints/Chinese-School/518473/Packing-the-Porcelain,-c.1825-.html (accessed 22/04/2021).
  6. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). © National Portait Gallery, London. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Jeremy_Bentham_by_Henry_William_Pickersgill.jpg (accessed 22/04/2021).
  7. Tysoe Saul Hancock, his wife, Philadelphia, daughter Elizabeth and Indian maid Clarinda by Joshua Reynolds c.1763-5, originally titled George Clive and Family. Gemäldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=direct/1/ResultLightboxView/result.t1.collection_lightbox.$TspTitleImageLink.link&sp=10&sp=Scollection&sp=SfieldValue&sp=0&sp=0&sp=3&sp=Slightbox_3x4&sp=12&sp=Sdetail&sp=0&sp=F&sp=T&sp=19 (accessed 22/04/2021).
  8. Eliza de Feuillide https://en.wikipedia.oJrg/wiki/Eliza_de_Feuillide (accessed 25/03/21).


  1. Virginia Woolf, Diary 28 June 1923.
  2. There were three Anglo-Maratha Wars lasting with brief intermissions from 1775-1818. For a detailed account see Wikipedia.
  3. John Pester’s diary was transcribed, edited  and published by his descendant J.A. Devenish, as War and Sport in India 1802-1806: An Officer’s Diary (London: Heath, Cranton & Ouseley, Ltd., this digitised version by Alpha Editions 2019).
  4. See http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/eicah/armorial-porcelain-case-study-acquisition. The British Library holds the journals, log books and paybooks for the Speke 1764-1775, and correspondence between Francis Sykes and Capt. Thomas Pattle.
  5. An agent in charge of buying, selling and storing cargo.
  6. Robert Finlay, The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelains in World History (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010) 27.
  7. Anne Bulley, Free Mariner (London: BACSA, 1992) 81.
  8. Over 24,000 pieces were auctioned at Christie’s in Amsterdam in 1995, many then displayed in museums in Malaya, Amsterdam and America. For details of the Diana and the salvage operation see The Diana Adventure by Dorian Ball (Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Historical Salvors 1995). This also gives excellent accounts of John Palmer’s business, the country trade with captains like George Jackson, and Calcutta and Canton at the time.
  9. Letter from Jeremy Bentham to his father Jeremiah, 17 August 1785. Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Volume 3 (London: University College London Press, 2017). Other letters between Thomas Pattle and both Jeremiah and Jeremy Bentham show that they were guests of his on other occasions at his town house in Place Royal (now named Place de Vosges).
  10. See Deirdre Le Fay Jane Austen’s ‘Outlandish Cousin’: Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide (London: The British Library, 2002). The film Becoming Jane (2003) explores Eliza’s influence on Jane Austen’s work. 
  11. Virginia Woolf to Violet Dickinson [13 April 1937] (L6, 120)