William Pitt and Sarah Archer Amherst Family Collection
Scope and Contents
The collection includes manuscript letters to and from Lord Amherst that document his diplomatic service as ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1809-1812) and his embassy to China (1815-1817). Most letters by Amherst are copies kept for his records, though some are originals that were later returned to him. All incoming letters are originals. The bulk of the diplomatic correspondence was acquired in a group of 11 portfolios. Documents were removed from these containers, but the original order and divisions have been retained; the original portfolios themselves are housed in box 6 at the end of the collection. Additional Lord Amherst correspondence has been acquired by gift and purchase and is organized in separate sub-series; this material includes personal letters sent to Lady Sarah Archer Amherst, including a series of letters written while travelling from England to China, and small groups of letters and individual pieces of correspondence with others.
The most significant documentation of Lord Amherst's time in India is the seven volume diary kept by Lady Amherst from 1823-1828. Her diary includes some of her own sketches as well as other illustrations and ephmera bound in or laid in. One of the 11 portfolios received as a group was made up entirely of newspaper clippings, assorted correspondence, and other ephemera addressed to and collected by Lady Amherst during their time in India; the contents have been rehoused and the original portfolio retained. Two early-19th-century bound manuscript volumes in Persian were given to Lord Amherst and form their own series. Three published items (two books and one map) have been removed from the collection and added to the general rare book collections. Other documents related to Lord Amherst's life and career, including a manuscript notebook from his youth, two letters patent, and a manuscript account of a court martial in which he was involved have been collected in a sub-series under Lord Amherst. The collection also includes two scrapbooks and a file of ephemera assembled by Julia Emily Gordon, an Amherst relative, during the nineteenth century. These form their own series.
- Creation: 1808-1830
Conditions Governing Access
There is no restriction on access to the William Pitt and Sarah Archer Amherst Family Collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.
Conditions Governing Use
Requests for permission to publish material from the William Pitt and Sarah Archer Amherst Family Collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.
Biographical / Historical
William Pitt Amherst, second Barron Amherst of Montreal, first Earl Amherst of Arracan (1773–1857), diplomatist and governor-general of Bengal, was born on 14 January 1773 in Bath, the first of three children of Lieutenant-General William Amherst (1732–1781), aide-de-camp to the king, governor of St John's, Newfoundland, and adjutant-general of the army, and his wife, Elizabeth Patterson (d. 1776/7). Amherst and his two sisters were brought up on the Isle of Wight until the deaths of their parents caused them to be transferred to Kent, where they were placed under the care of their uncle Jeffrey Amherst, first Baron Amherst (1717–1797), commander-in-chief of the army.
After completing his education at at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, William Pitt Amherst went on to a diplomatic career. He held the office of lord of the bedchamber to George III from 1802 to 1804. In 1809 he was appointed ambassador-extraordinary to the court of the Two Sicilies, which he resigned in 1811. He was then called to lead an embassy to the court of the Chinese emperor in 1816. His most significant period of government service was his appointment in 1823 as governor-general of Bengal in succession to the marquess of Hastings. Shortly after his arrival in India, war was declared between British India and Burma on 24 February 1824. This conflict would dominate his time in India until he resigned his post and returned to England in 1827. Following his return from India, he was named lord of the bedchamber by George IV (1829–30) and again by William IV (1830–37). Thereafter, he stayed clear of national and imperial politics, preferring instead to spend his time on his Kentish estates, where he occasionally took up local affairs, pushing for road improvements in the county and promoting the establishment of a savings bank in Sevenoaks. He died at his home, Knole House, near Sevenoaks, on 13 March 1857 and was buried eight days later in the church at Sevenoaks.
His first marriage was on 24 July 1800 to Sarah, countess dowager of Plymouth (1762–1838), widow of the fifth earl of Plymouth and daughter of Andrew, second Lord Archer, whom he had first met while touring the continent in 1793. They had three sons and one daughter: Jeffrey, Sarah, William, and Frederick. Jeffrey died in India in 1826; the second brother, William, succeeded to his father's titles on his father's death in 1857. After the death of his first wife Amherst married on 25 May 1839 Mary (1792–1864), widow of his stepson, the sixth earl of Plymouth, and eldest daughter and coheir of the third duke of Dorset. Amherst's second marriage was without issue.
Life and Career of William Pitt Amherst
- William Pitt Amherst born 14 January 1773
- Receives MA from Christ Church College, Oxford University
- Marries Sarah, countess dowager of Plymouth (1762–1838) 24 July 1800
- Lord of the Bedchamber to George III (1802 - 1804)
- Appointed Ambassador-Extraordinary to the Court of the Two Sicilies (1809 - 1811)
- Called to lead an embassy to the court of the Chinese emperor. Left England aboard HMS Alceste on 9 February 1816.
- Appointment as Governor-General of Bengal (in succession to the marquess of Hastings).
- Declaration of war between British India and Burma on 24 February 1824 -- the First Anglo-Burmese War.
- Death of his eldest son, Jeffrey, at Barrackpore, India.
- Leaves India to return to his home, Knole House, near Sevenoaks, England.
- Appointed Lord of the Bedchamber by George IV (1829-30)
- Appointed Lord of the Bedchamber by William IV (1830-37)
- Lady Sarah Amherst dies 27 May 1838
- Marries Mary (1792–1864), widow of his stepson, the sixth earl of Plymouth, and eldest daughter and coheir of the third duke of Dorset. 25 May 1839
- Died, 13 March 1857. Buried in the church at Sevenoaks.
4 Linear feet (2 archives boxes, 4 half archives boxes)
Language of Materials
Correspondence, manuscript documents, printed ephemera, diaries, and books that document the life and career of William Pitt Amherst, Second Barron Amherst of Montreal and First Earl Amherst of Arracan (1773-1857). Documents to and from Lord Amherst largely document his time as ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1890-1812) and his embassy to China (1815-1817). The diaries kept by Lady Sarah Archer Amherst cover the entirety of their stay during Lord Amherst's appointment as Governor-General of British India (1823-1828). The collection also includes two Persian manuscripts given to Lord Amherst while in India.
The collection is organized into four series:
- Series 1: William Pitt, Earl Amherst, 1808-1817
- Series 2: Hon. Sarah Archer (1762-1838), Countess of Plymouth and Countess Amherst of Arracan
- Series 3: Bound Persian Manuscripts, 1817, 1826
- Series 4: Gordon Family, 1809-1891
Three printed items were removed from the collection and added to the general rare book holdings in Archives and Special Collections:
The Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Printed by the University Printers, 1698. "Amherst" written on verso of front free endpaper. Two color drawings tipped in at front. No other ms notes present.
The Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: Printed by John Baskett, 1719. "Ann Kirrill 1731" written in ink on title page and verso of blank leaf at front. Manuscript record of family births and deaths from 1720-1829. Many notes appear to be in the hand of Lady Sarah Amherst.
A New Travelling Map of the Country Round London. JNo. Andrews and A. Dury, 1776. Large map backed with fabric, folded in original marbled paper slipcase.
- Mike Kelly
- Language of description
- Script of description