GENEROSITY OF FRIENDS 1789-94
When his business collapses at the beginning of September 1789, Cort is probably in London for Adam Jellicoe's funeral.
An extent is quickly issued for his arrest if he returns to Hampshire.
He becomes established in "Devonshire Street, Queens Square", London. The street has since changed its name to Boswell Street.
A suggestion that he is "supported by poor relief" can be discounted. He is entitled to relief only in Hampshire.
But he can rely on the support of James Watson, who lives in Powis Place, just round the corner from Queens Square.
To judge from the subsequent petition, Watson enlists the help of some of his contacts.
We take the Liberty respectfully to state to you the unfortunate Case of Mr. Henry Cort, late of Gosport, at which place he had, some time ago, iron contracts under Government, and among the rest a contract for making malleable iron with raw pit-coal only, and the manufacturing the same by means of grooved rolls by a process of his own invention; we are sorry to add that, through the very great expense necessarily attending the prosecution of these important improvements, this gentleman failed, when on the eve of reaping the harvest of his patents, which were taken possession of under extents from the Crown.
We have therefore been induced, not only from Compassion but from the good opinion we entertain of him, and from the great national Benefits which now actually Result from these his Discoveries and Improvements, to join with many others in a Subscription...
From 1791 petition to William Pitt
The Cort family also has a small income from their estate at Standon in Hertfordshire.
Having been declared bankrupt, Cort's first priority is to pay off his debts to creditors other than the Crown. This is achieved in April 1790.
There follow sporadic attempts to wrest recognition from the Navy, including the material sent by Watson that ends up in the Scottish archives.
But the most revealing document is the petition of 1791 (not 1794 as stated in some accounts), addressed to Prime Minister William Pitt.
From these considerations we beg Leave, Sir, to recommend Mr Cort to your Notice, in the strongest manner we are able; as deserving such Encouragement from Government as may be thought most expedient, either by an Appointment to some situation in one of His Majesty's Dock Yards, the Customs, or the Excise, or any other public Office or Place in which his Talents and Industry may prove useful to the Public and to himself. In any of which departments we will confidently engage that Mr. Cort's Abilities and Conduct will be such as by no Means to discredit our Recommendation, or any other Countenance which you, Sir, may have the Goodness to show him at our Instance.
From 1791 petition to William Pitt
Though the petition’s request is not granted, it is probably the spur that prompts the Government to grant Cort a pension in 1794.
Amont the petition's 43 signatories, a few names stand out.
James Watson, by now an MP, is one. Many others are clearly his associates.
A host of fellow MPs, but only one fellow lawyer: John Eames, originally from Gosport.
Eight Aldermen of the City of London, including Lord Mayor John Boydell and two Sheriffs. Two Directors of the Bank of England. Eleven Directors of the East India Company.
The Deputy Master and eighteen other members of Trinity House. Eleven city merchants and businessmen.
Only one with Royal Navy connections: Sir George Jackson, who was Secretary to the Navy Board when Cort was a navy agent.
Only one obviously connected with the iron trade, and that a company: "John & Willm Wilson & Son, Swedish Iron Merchants". They are known to be partners in the Wilsontown Ironworks in Scotland. For several years I entertained the notion that the John Wilson who married Cort's daughter Charlotte might be the "Son" of the firm. Evidence unearthed in October 2008 makes this extremely unlikely. Charlotte’s husband was well established in Berbice in 1800, when Joseph Hamer appointed him executor in his will. Earlier evidence makes it pretty clear that the Wilsontown “son” was at the works until 1799 at least, and there is no reason to suppose a connection between him and Hamer.