WAINEWRIGHT, Thomas Griffiths (1794-1847)


WAINEWRIGHT, Thomas Griffiths (1794-1847)
artist, writer, and poisoner
was born about October 1794 at London, the son of Thomas Wainewright and his wife Ann, daughter of Dr Thomas Griffiths. His mother died at his birth, his father a few years later, and the boy was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Dr Griffiths, a man of means, and after his death, by his uncle, George Edward Griffiths. Wainewright was educated at Greenwich academy, whose headmaster was the well-known Charles Burney, D.D., and when 19 years of age began studying painting under Thomas Phillips, R.A. In April 1814 he became an ensign in the army but left it 13 months later. A severe illness accompanied with hypochondria followed, and it is not unlikely that he never fully recovered from the effect of this illness. He had been left the income from £5000 by his grandfather, he was a pleasant and amusing companion' and he had the good fortune to become friendly with Charles Lamb and his associates. Wainewright, like Lamb, began to write for the London Magazine, under the pseudonyms of "Janus Weathercock", "Egomet Bonmot", and "Van Vinkbooms", but the modest income of £250 a year was not sufficient for his desires, and in 1822 he forged the signatures of his trustees and obtained £2250 of the capital sum from the Bank of England. He had in the previous year married Frances Ward, daughter of a Mrs Abercromby by a former marriage. In 1823 he published a little volume in verse, Some Passages in the Life, etc. of Egomet Bonmot, Esq. He entertained various distinguished literary men, but his money had run out and debts were accumulating. In 1828 he obtained some relief when with his wife he went to live with his uncle, George Edward Griffiths. A few months later his uncle died. There is no evidence, but it has generally been assumed that he was poisoned by his nephew. The house and some money was left to Wainewright, but probably the money was largely used to pay old debts. In August 1830 his wife's mother having made her will in favour of Mrs Wainewright, died suddenly a few days later, but her death does not seem to have aroused any suspicion in her family for during the next two months Wainewright succeeded in assuring the life of his wife's half-sister, Helen Abercromby, for £16,000, and in December 1830 she too died in great agony. The assurance offices, however, declined to pay. Wainewright then brought an action against one of the companies. He was still being pressed by his creditors, and in May 1831 left for Boulogne, leaving his wife and child in England. He stayed on the continent for six years and little is known of his life except that on occasions he was practically destitute. In January 1835 the Bank of England discovered his forgeries; there had been a second one in May 1824, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The delayed action against the life assurance company did not come on until June 1835, when the jury disagreed. The action was renewed in December and resulted in a verdict for the defendant company. Wainewright had been safe in France but returned to England in May and was arrested on 9 June 1837. He pleaded guilty to having endeavoured "to have stock transferred at the bank by virtue of a forged power of attorney" and was sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Hobart on 21 November 1837.
Wainewright's conduct as a convict was always good and after a time he was allowed to exercise his artistic talents. Several of his pictures, mostly portraits, are in existence at Hobart and Sydney. In 1844 he addressed an appeal to the governor for a remission of his sentence, and he was then receiving third-class wages as a hospital warder. He was in bad health and he seems to have been allowed a good deal of liberty. Nine months before his death he was recommended for a pardon, but the answer from England could scarcely have had time to arrive before he died on 17 August 1847. His wife and son survived him.
Wainewright was a man of unusual ability. He was a capable writer and artist, he exhibited six pictures at the Royal Academy between 1821 and 1825, and did good painting in his later days of adversity. There appears to be little reason to doubt that he poisoned Helen Abercromby, and quite possibly his uncle and his mother-in-law too, but he was never even brought to trial for one of these crimes, and his guilt cannot be proved. His contemporary, Vice-chancellor Bacon, seems to have had no doubt about his guilt. Writing to Canon Ainger many years later about the contributors to the London Magazine he includes "James (sic) Weathercock (Wainewright), who, if he escaped it deserved hanging" (Edith Sichel, The Life and Letters of Alfred Ainger). It seems likely, as Havelock Ellis suggested, that Wainewright was never normal after the hypochondriac period of his life when he was on the verge of insanity if not actually insane. His Essays and Criticisms were collected and published by W. Carew Hazlitt in 1880. His portrait by himself and several of his other works are reproduced in Janus Weathercock by Jonathan Curling. The evidence that the view of "Sydney Harbour", plate XVIII, was painted by Wainewright, does not, however, appear to be conclusive.
Jonathan Curling, Janus Weathercock; Ed. by T. Seccombe, Lives of Twelve Bad Men; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; The Herald, Melbourne, 16 July 1938; A. Graves, The Royal Academy Exhibitors; W. Carew Hazlitt, Introduction to Wainewright's Essays and Crititisms; Oscar Wilde, "Pen, Pencil and Poison" in Intentions, Wilde's essay is based on Hazlitt.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thomas Griffiths Wainewright — (October 1794 – 17 August 1847) was an artist, writer and infamous poisoner.Early lifeWainewright was born into affluence and London literary society in Richmond, London, Englandcite web |url=http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020509b.htm… …   Wikipedia

  • Thomas Griffiths — may refer to* Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794 ndash;1847), English journalist and subject painter, was born at Chiswick * Thomas Griffiths (bishop) * Thomas Griffiths (general) * Thomas Griffiths (politician) (1867 ndash;1955), Welsh Labour… …   Wikipedia

  • Wainewright — /ˈweɪnraɪt/ (say waynruyt) noun Thomas Griffiths, 1794–1847, English writer and artist, transported to Australia for forgery of the signatures of his trustees in 1837 …   Australian English dictionary


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