The Reprobate and Fortune Hunter

In this post we take a look at the life of Jemima’s sister Phillis Neate. On 23 October 1781 Phillis married Charles Meniconi (“Meni” to the family) who brought her considerable wealth.  Sadly we only know this because he died in 1796, leaving everything to her and it is all listed in the marriage settlement she made with her second husband, one John Hutton Cooper, of whom more below.  For the moment, suffice it to say that her later marriage settlement runs to 17 very long pages, largely taken up with the list of property and assets that Meni brought to the family.

Shortly after Phillis married Meni, Henry Chapman, her brother-in-law, sailed for America.  Things must have looked bleak for the Neate family. Henry had only gone because it had become clear that, unless he did, the debts owed to his father-in-law would never be collected.  In addition, in his state of bankruptcy, the £300 a year salary must have been a necessity.  Two out of the four girls were still unmarried, so everything depended on Meni as the only son-in-law solvent and in the country.

Henry Chapman
Henry Chapman

So at this point the Neate women were left with one male protector – Charles Meniconi.  This situation did not last long because for some reason Charles and Phillis decided to venture to France.  We do not know when they went, but we do know that by 1793 they were in serious trouble.

The first reference is in a letter undated but probably from 1793 where Henry wrote:

The uncertain situation of your sister Phillis is no small addition to the comfortless situation of my mind.  The wretches she is among seem to have o’erleap’t every kind of humanity.  Nothing now appears to restrain their savage barbarity.  The more they glut it, the more craving and voracious it grows.  Beauty, youth and innocence are no longer considered as protection against their sanguinary pursuits.  If success should ultimately attend them, I shall almost waver in my faith and doubt the Christian system.

When you hear anything about Charles, then let me know their situation.  I wish they were safe among their friends in England.

Phillis and Charles are clearly in trouble and from the next letter (dated 17 December 1794) we learn where and why:

I feel serious pleasure in your having at last heard from your sister.  In the present situation of affairs in that wretched country it is certainly infinitely satisfactory to know that they are well as ever in existence.  I should have felt sincere delight in receiving a letter from her, but that happiness is denied me, none ever having come to my hand.  A system of comparative moderation having succeeded the extreme violence of Robespierre’s reign, I wonder Chas and Phil do not avail themselves of it and endeavour to quit a country where they must have long been in constant personal danger.  Their attachment to a fine country in terms of tranquility and peace is not at all astonishing, but when that country is involved in confusion and missing such an attachment, has much the appearance of a strange infatuation.  They are, however, best acquainted with their own concerns.

Then on 28 May 1795 we learn that Phillis and Charles have indeed done what Henry would have recommended and escaped from France:

In the same letter she gives me a piece of intelligence, at which I do most sincerely rejoice.  She says that Jemima informs her that Charles and Phil had got to Hamburg in their way to England.

And he is again writing about them on 3 June 1795:

A confirmation of the arrival of the Meni’s among you will give me sincere pleasure.  I shall be anxiously looking for it.

Unfortunately they came back with their health seriously damaged by the ill-treatment they had suffered along with many other English known as the English Detainees at the hands of the French mobs.

At this point Kitty’s diary takes up the story:

On 22 May 1795 she wrote:

had a most agreeable surprise in the Morning a very unexpected letter from my poor Sister Meniconi for whose safety we have been so long anxious to say she was safe arrived from France wrote to her directly.

and on 23 June:

In the Afternoon had the happiness to embrace my brother & sister Meniconi after an absence of 4 years & suffering dreadful anxiety on their account from the disordered state of the Kingdom of France. Very pleas’d to see each other staid till past 10.

Over the following 11 months she had regular visits from the Meniconi’s, but on 20 April 1796 she first recorded that “Meni was very unwell”.  By the 29th of April she had to write:

Rose very early Emma & I went to town in the stage found Mr Meni extremely ill staid there till past 8 & left him with little hope of seeing him alive any more lost the stage caught in the Rain frighted to death lest we should not get home at all forced to walk in the wet to Charing X but fortunately found Smith’s Coach there unwell & fatigued when I got home.

18 May:

Mrs Stables calld again this morning. Ellen a little better but our poor Meni almost gone. Constant convulsions all day Mr Sutton sent for me.  Forced to make him wait till I could disengage my hand from Meni’s grasp.  Had sad intelligence to give him. Phillis who had sat up all Night was laid down. Dr Hulme here at noon. Mr Shirley dind here he saw the state of the poor patient & kindly staid by him till all was over which was at a ¼ after 6 in the afternoon. I was forced to remain in the next room with my afflicted Sister whom we had taken away about an hour before he died. On the Nurse telling her too abruptly his situation she fell into Hysterics & we carried her away. I did not dare leave her a moment lest she should get back again & as soon as she knew the sad calamity she sent for Mr Sutton who very obligingly came immediately.

He sat here till 8 o’clock & we got her tolerably calm. She went to Bed at 12 & had a very quiet sleep till 5 being quite worn out with fatigue I sat up with her all night.

Over the next few days there are accounts of poor Phillis’ hysteria and the arrangements for the funeral.

Wall Street, New York, 1790 by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe. Published in the year 1913 by C. Klackner, New York.
Wall Street, New York, 1790 by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe. Published in the year 1913 by C. Klackner, New York. Museum of the City of New York.

When Kitty sent the news to her husband Henry, he wrote to her from New York on 12 August 1796:

On my return here two days ago from Philad. I found your letter of the 12 June just arrived.  The Sable Seal was of course the signal of death and I broke it with a trembling hand.  I anticipated the final departure of some DEAR but ANCIENT relation, whom I was unhappily destined to see no more.  These in the course of nature we are prepared to part with as an event inevitable, however distressing it may be, but it goes hard to be separated from those of a less mature age.  I lament the life of Meniconi as a friend whom I esteem’d and love and I shall always respect his memory.

Considering the weak state of your health, I fear much for the effects of you mental as well as bodily fatigues and distresses on this truly melancholy occasion.  Your sufferings and afflictions must doubtless have been enough to overset you, even had your health been more robust.  I hope in God that you may escape all serious consequences attending your exertions.  My afflictive feelings on poor Phils unhappy loss are certainly lessen’d by the last mark of Charles’s affection to her;  he has proved in death what he always manifested by his conduct towards her during life and she certainly is fully deserving of this last mark of his affectionate attention.

 This “last mark of her husband’s affection to her” and what “proved in death what he always manifested by his conduct towards her during life” was his will, by which he left to her, unconditionally, his entire fortune.

At this point Phillis was wealthy.  And then John Hutton Cooper, Doctor of Physic came along . . .

John Hutton Cooper
John Hutton Cooper

When he met Phillis Cooper had already been married before, without children, to an heiress, so he must have been reasonably wealthy, but this was not enough for him.  Kitty’s daughter, Emma later described Cooper to her grand-nephew as a “reprobate and fortune-hunter”.  That he may have been, but he was undoubtedly also a man of enormous charm both to men and women.  From her later diaries we find that Kitty’s other daughter, Fanny fell quite in love with him.  Indeed there is quite some evidence that Jemima was later also deeply attached to him.

The marriage settlement between Cooper and Phillis is dated 1 November 1797.  In its 17 pages she lists all the wealth she enjoyed thanks to Meni’s last mark of affection to her, and she and Cooper agree that, notwithstanding the normal law on the subject at the time everything she had inherited would remain hers, would never pass to Cooper and that she was free to dispose of it by will or otherwise, as she wished.  She must have been well advised.  They married on 17 November 1797 at St Margaret, Westminster with Fanny Chapman present as a witness.

Chapman image - marriage


However, exactly six months later, on 17 April 1798, she wrote her will.  In it she left everything to Cooper.  There was not even a token bequest to her mother and sisters.

On the 18 October 1801 Phillis died and Cooper thereupon inherited everything.

What lay behind this extraordinary change of heart on Phillis’s part only 6 months after she had reached a settlement by which she had managed to preserve all of Meni’s wealth for herself? We can only speculate, because the documentation is very sketchy at this point, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that Cooper talked her into it by promising to look after her sisters and mother.

BathEaston Villa c 1825, courtesy of Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
BathEaston Villa c 1825, courtesy of Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

At the time of her marriage settlement to Cooper, Phillis was living in one of the properties that she and Meniconi had owned – Batheaston Villa, near Bath.  In 1807, when her niece, Fanny started writing her diaries that is where she was living with her Aunt Powell (Jemima) and Aunt Neate (Mary).  Kitty (Christiana) was living elsewhere in Bath and she and Jemima were not on speaking terms.  Kitty was receiving letters from her son (William Neate Chapman).  William regularly makes rather disparaging comments about Cooper including the following in 1806 which gives a strong hint about what has been going on.

“Speaking of the Suttons naturally brings to my mind Col. Cooper. I have received a very friendly Letter from him, full of nothing however. I wish when he dies, he may be persuaded like my Uncle Shirley, to leave his Fortune, if any remain, to those to whom it is due Frances and Emma Chapman – by the way I believe her name is Fanny instead of Frances.”

In 1802, shortly after Phillis’ death the three remaining sisters signed a document – “a release” – which recites the content of the marriage settlement and  Phillis’s will by which she had undone all the good  her marriage settlement had done – and then states that they would make no claim against her estate.  The only reason such a document could have come into existence was that one or more of the three sisters had challenged the will.  Some sort of settlement must have been reached, but there is no record of it, so it looks like it must have been an exercise of Cooper’s charm.  Perhaps a promise that he would make sure that the three girls and their children would be properly looked after.  Kitty’s and William’s hostility may well have been a result of the fact that nothing was recorded and she felt pressured into the release.

True to Kitty’s fears, Cooper did not keep his word.  In 1809 he sold Batheaston Villa.  His sisters-in-law and his niece had to move out and from then on they lived in rented accommodation – no slums, but nothing of the same standard as Batheaston which still stands today and is one of the most beautiful houses in the beautiful city of Bath.  From then on in her diary Fanny often calls Cooper the “promise breaker.”




We have already introduced you to Col John Hutton Cooper who married Phillis Meniconi, one of the Neate sisters and then had the good fortune, perhaps aided by vigorous use of charm, to inherit her considerable fortune.

After she died in 1801 he took two of his surviving sisters in law, Jemima and Mary and his niece, Fanny into his magnificent house – Batheaston Villa – in Batheaston on the East side of Bath.  We know little of his first few years with them there, but in 1807 Fanny began her diary and his story comes to life.

Fanny was then 33 and Cooper 43 and it is clear there was a strong attraction between them.  He was often away but on his visits Fanny’s diary jumps into life.  He is “our dear Cooper”.  He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Second Somerset Militia and he brings his friends to the house.  Once a year the whole household decamps to Weymouth or Cheltenham where they rent a house, Cooper’s regiment manoeuvres, and they take the waters and enjoy the company.

But for Fanny the love is unrequited.  The following is an entry in her diary from Sunday, 22 January, 1809.

A deep snow, which is likely to last, as it continues snowing very fast.  Cooper in very good humour, speaking before breakfast of letting this house.  He said if he could get 450 pounds a year for it, he should have 1,500 a year clear to spend, “but I can’t afford to marry on that Fan can I?”  “Marry”  I replied “You don’t want to marry” “Yes, I do”.  “You would not marry except the Lady had a large fortune”  “No, I could not afford to do so without, but if I had ten thousand a year, I would ask you to marry me”.   O said I (laughing), that’s very pretty talking, but I don’t believe a word of it.  “I would upon my honor as a man”  he replied in the most solemn manner.

Of course he did not get his £10000 and there never was a marriage.

The three women were devoted to Cooper, sewing his neck-cloths, cleaning the books in his library and looking after his wardrobe.

While on his military duties, Cooper made friends with the Duke of Clarence who was eventually to become William IV.  He became the groom of his bed-chamber – not  a full time job.  In 1821 he found a woman who could bring more money to him, Maria Charlotte Baker, daughter of Sir George Baker and they were married.  In 1828 he was elevated to a Baronetcy – no doubt sponsored by the Duke.

William IV (1765–1837), When Duke of Clarence by James Lonsdale (c) Mark Masons' Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
William IV (1765–1837), When Duke of Clarence by James Lonsdale
(c) Mark Masons’ Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

An undated letter from William to Cooper shows how close they were:

“Dear Cooper,

Well knowing your sincere friendship for me I need only tell you the mind has affected the body with me: you can understand me: I am now bound by my word of honour to the British and Hanoverian cabinets to marry the princess they choose for me: I must of course be soon married: an accursed thought: however I am making the necessary arrangements and apply therefore to you not forgetting the kind manner you accepted the situation in my family to request your friendly permission to continue in my family without salary. I can only afford the pay to three and they are old Byde Law, James O’Brien and Mr Harry Blackward; as events arise I will write and ever believe me, Dear Sir,

Yours sincerely


Cooper was no doubt destined to have an important place in William IV’s household but he died in 1828, 3 years too soon.  His obituary concluded:

“Sir Hutton, though married three times, has left no children.  He died on the 24th of December, about 63 years of age, leaving us a bright example of what may be done, though with humble means at the outset of life.  He attained wealth, honours, distinction, by the force of his character alone, the leading features of which were disinterestedness, sincerity and steadiness in his friendships and attachments, added to great gaiety and cheerfulness, with a kind captivating manner.”



The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 40




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