Regency Brothers – the Tinker

William Martin (1772 – 1851) was the oldest of these famous brothers of the Regency. More siblings were on the way so he was sent to live with his grandparents at Haydon Bridge on the River Tyne, flowing northward toward the “miry court” of beloved Crichton Castle.  He seemed to follow in his father’s footsteps, trying a variety of occupations beginning with that of tanning hides. This diverse interest perhaps led him to practice what he best became known for.

“Oh, ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.” — Leonardo di Vinci

“There are three laws of thermodynamics: you can’t get something for nothing, you can’t win, and you have to lose.” — someone’s high school chemistry teacher

The Regency was a time of increasing strides made in reducing the cost of labor. Why not a machine that produces its own power, without regard to friction or absence of external force? William was entranced by the notion. He was not particularly of a slovenly nature, but he had warmed to the idea of something that would work without being prodded to do so. Art imitating life.

Medal of Isis

Medal of Isis

Anyway, he was unsuccessful. His perpetual motion machine, optimistically named Eureka, was dismissed because it incorporated external force–a big no-no. Concealed in its design was an air tube through which force was applied secretly to power a seemingly effortless machine. No matter, his spring weighing machine brought him a Regency honor in 1814–the Isis medal from the Society of Arts–a recognition that he was a serious inventor.

He soon had reason to habitually wear the thing about his neck. He had become a “stout, portly man, perfectly cracked but harmless.” His well-known diatribes against Newton’s Theory of Gravity completely negated his contributions to science and many thought his proper place was among the British Society of Asses.

Thank goodness for his wife’s earnings. She was a celebrated dressmaker, “inoffensive and respected by rich and poor.”

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Regency Brothers – Tinker, Painter, Soldier and–Arsonist

We love the Regency era novels of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion for the same reasons we like the Edwardian era dramas of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. These are stories that take place in stratified societies with rules the plot must heed like lodestones. If they stray too far they will offend the reader.

It sounds like a recipe for boredom and might well be–but for the persons that threaten to upset one’s beautiful world. Characters like George Wickham, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Parks and Tom Branson.

This post is an introduction to four brothers of the Regency, whose contributions, some dubious, enriched and horrified the Beau Monde.

Syon Park's conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Syon Park’s conservatory to hold beautiful plants for the Duke of Northumberland (taken by Phill Brown – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

The Martin boys were among twelve children born to William Fenwick Martin and his wife Isabella in Northumberland. The family was decidedly lower class, the father being somewhat peripatetic in both lodging and trade. He had at one time been a fencing master but also built coaches, tanned hides and kept taverns.

Such an unstable environment was perhaps unsuitable for raising children and they were sent to live at various times with relatives before both parents died in 1813.

The sons were as follows:

The Tinker:  William– the oldest. An inventor and philosopher who “tinkered” with machines and ideas.

The Painter:  John — the youngest. An artist and historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

The Soldier:  Richard — the second oldest. A quartermaster in the Guards, serving in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The Arsonist:  Jonathan – the third oldest. Arguably the most famous of all.

They entertained the ton, existing in the beautiful world that was all around them, but forever out of reach.

Perhaps their stories will entertain you as well.

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Northumberland cottage (photographed by Brian Norman and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)