Henry de la Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford (1811 – 1859)
We have come across our Henry before when we were examining the origins of the phrase, paint the town red, but his exploits are worth examining in more detail. To many they seem just the product of what extreme wealth and no gainful employment can do but if we measure eccentricity as behaviour out of kilter with the mores of the time, then the mad marquess, as he was known, is right up there.
Henry was actually the second son of the Second Marquess of Waterford but inherited the title upon his father’s death in 1826, because his elder brother had shuffled off this mortal coil in 1824. The title and the money that went with the grand estate in Ireland seems to havre gone to his head and during the late 1830s he was frequently in the news. His particular penchant was to drink heavily, brawl, vandalise property and strike peculiar wagers – a bit of an erstwhile Oliver Reed character.
At that time there was little in the way of an established police force and significant properties or thoroughfares were guarded by night watchmen. These poor individuals were seen as fair game by Henry and nothing rounded off a good evening on the electric sauce than beating one (or more) of them up. An even more sinister character trait was his love of a sick joke. On one occasion he wrote to the London and Greenwich Railway Company, offering them the princely sum of £10,000 if they would stage a train crash that he could watch. The thrill for him would be to observe the distress of the victims. Although train safety was parlous at the best of times in those days, thankfully the Company politely refused his offer.
Henry would do anything for a laugh. On one famous occasion, he bought several large casks of gin and stationed himself in London’s Haymarket, offering free mugs of the hooch to anyone who cared to take them. He seemed to see it as a bit of a social experiment, keen to see what would happen when the grateful public indulged in his largesse to excess. Well, what happened was that a riot broke and Henry had to be carted off for his own safety.
Beresford was a reckless horse rider and was brought up before the beak for riding at high-speed through a crowded street, without any concern for any of the poor pedestrians who may have been in the way. Arriving at the court on horseback, Henry demanded that his nag be cross-examined. After all, he argued, only the horse knew exactly how fast he was going. Whether it was the strength of his forensic arguments or his nobility that caused the case to be dismissed, we will never know. Mind you, he could have done with a fast horse when he rode in the 1840 Grand National. His horse, the Sea, was all washed out and finished last of the four to finish, half a mile behind the winner.
Such was Henry’s notoriety for practical jokes, or rather hooliganism, that the finger of suspicion was pointed at him as the perpetrator of what were termed the Spring Heeled Jack incidents. The Reverend E C Brewer, no less, attested in 1880 that he “used to amuse himself by springing on travellers unawares, to frighten them, and from time to time others have followed his silly example” These incidents occurred between 1837 and 1904, so Henry couldn’t have been the sole perpetrator but perhaps the Reverend was on to something.
The first incident occurred in Clapham Common – Henry was in London at the time – when Mary Stevens was assaulted by a figure that leapt out of the dark and the following day another girl was attacked, the perpetrator effecting its escape by scaling a nine foot wall.
Whether Henry was involved is unclear but as well as painting the town red, he was tarred with the same brush, it would seem.