William Vanderstegen

William Vanderstegen was probably born in 1737 (Foster 1888) and died in 1797 (Burke 1863). In the minimal details of his obituary he was "a very active magistrate" (Gentleman's Magazine 1797:624) and his list of public duties was considerable: "a J.P. and a D.L. for Oxfordshire, Chairman of Quarter Sessions, High Sheriff in 1761, and one of the first Commissioners of the Thames" (Smith-Masters 1933:32).

Vanderstegen's father was a Dutch Protestant immigrant who probably came to England in 1689 (Smith-Masters 1933) and at his death was described as "an eminent merchant" (Gentleman's Magazine 1754:95). The Vanderstegen family had a considerable amount of money and William was left £18,000 at his majority (PRO, PROB 11/807, 90v-93r). They moved in high circles: his sister Elizabeth married Sir Charles Asgill and William married Elizabeth Brigham in 1759 which brought him the Brigham family estate—including Cane End House, Oxfordshire (Burke 1863).

Vanderstegen took an active part in county affairs, including the administration of the Thames as a Commissioner between 1783 and 1796 (BRO, Commissioners of the Thames, Minutes). The sources of his interest in the Thames were numerous: he felt himself one of those "possessing property in the center of navigation" (1794a: 76); the Cane End estate included part of the land on which Caversham Bridge was built (Pearman 1894) and Vanderstegen also became a shareholder in Whitchurch Bridge (E.M.F. 1988). His interest in the river may well also have been influenced by his brother-in-law, who served as Lord Mayor of London from 1757 to 1758 and was directly engaged in the administration of the Thames (Gentleman's Magazine 1788) as well as being "drawn to the riverside by memories of its fashionable reputation in his youth" (Hussey 1944:992).

There is little information on Vanderstegen's life, though a few fragments can be gleaned. Elizabeth Brigham's wealth means he found a woman it was clearly advantageous for him to have married, but this by no means precludes a love match. Indeed, there is a small amount of evidence to suggest the family was close—perhaps very close. In 1794 Vanderstegen complained of his absences from the family, noting he had "attended many meetings, at all distances from home, and.met with no small difficulties of accommodation, some attention of mind, absence from my family and affairs" (1794a: 39-40). Vanderstegen and Elizabeth had one son (also called William) and one daughter. William junior was born in 1779 or 1780 (Foster 1888), eighteen to twenty years after his parents' marriage. Perhaps he too seems to have felt the need to marry a woman who was emotionally demanding: in Lybbe Powys' poem (1869) she comes across as a figure of mock dread for her smothering behaviour.

There are some indications other than the time into the marriage after which his son was born about the life that Vanderstegen seems to have pursued. As befitted a man of his status, Cane End House was a comfortable home, with its complement of servants, oak-panelled reception rooms, crimson damask Chippendale furniture, and a Chippendale doll's house commissioned by Vanderstegen (Dils 1994; Smith-Masters 1933). Vanderstegen kept a large pack of foxhounds and even in 1843 his grandson William

Henry was still drinking the Cane End currant wine he had laid down—described as at its best "quite tip-top" (Lybbe Powys 1869:15).

Yet Vanderstegen's life must also be seen alongside and against the intellectual constructions he placed on it. The key characteristics in his few public pronouncements about himself were of a man driven by duty and a sense of rectitude, even to the experience of "considerable expence" and "no small difficulties" with which he depicted his work (1794a: 40). The function of Vanderstegen's actions were plain: to discipline the Thames as a response to obligation and enlightened self-interest. In financial terms, the Thames might "at a very small expence, compared to that of making a canal, be made a navigation by far more beneficial to the public than any canal" (p. 2). In addition this would prevent the "injury" that "numberless individuals will sustain by the desertion of the River" (p. 2).

As well as being a "true lover of his country" (1794b: 76), Vanderstegen made "active able" efforts to make of the Thames a "safe and certain navigation" below Mapledurham and for it to become "compleat" as a "safe, easy, cheap and expeditious inland navigation" above that point (1794a: 8 and 11). During his time as a Commissioner he was present at the majority of occasions that proved to be significant in determining the policy towards locks on the river. It was he who presented the report to construct locks below Maidenhead at which the Commissioners, in gratitude "Ordered that the Thanks of this Meeting be given to Mr. Vanderstegen for his very active able and disinterested Conduct and attention to the business of the Navigation" (BRO, Commissioners of the Thames, Minutes, vol. 3, p. 305).

Rationality provided the key justification for Vanderstegen's interventions in public life. He was "a plain man, dealing only in the statement of plain facts" (1794b: 71). It served to differentiate him from those he opposed, being absent, for example, from the promoters of canal navigation who had behaved deplorably because "they have not given themselves time, cooly and impartially, to consider on which side the preference should be" (1794a: 1).

Vanderstegen presented probity as the motivation for his involvement in a public feud over the alleged evasion of salt tax. His own explanation of these events was that an unnamed relative inherited a saltworks and through her he became aware of a widespread evasion of taxation. His involvement was because, he claimed, he was "a lover of justice and good order" (1794b: 1). Not so, according to the rebuttal produced by Thomas Weston and Co. (1794) who accused him of being a man of "malice", his actions "pointed, in a very envenomed manner" (p. 3), his "enmity" (p. 4) indicative of an "indefatigable energy" (p. 27) to ruin the company after it had ended a commercial relationship with his relative. Vanderstegen's reply to their pamphlet (1794c) angrily rebutted these claims as "wilfully mistaken" (p. 3).

Vanderstegen strove with tenacious energy to protect his honour. In his anonymous reiteration of his attack on Weston (Anonymous 1794) he claimed his only object was "to obtain greater justice to the community in general, and individuals in particular" (p. iii). Relinquishing his duty, he claimed, "will tend to greater injury to the State, than a manly perseverance; and would certainly reduce him to a disgraceful and contemptible situation" (p. vii). This striving to be above contempt reflected his family's public myths as depicted in its coat of arms: a lion between two fish (see Burke 1863)—the lion being the beast of grandeur, of honour (Room 1999).

In Vanderstegen's account he was a man from whose honour flowed the obligation of duty: "a true lover of his country", he wrote of himself in the third person (1794b: 76), "can never think himself employed so agreeably as in promoting its welfare". This duty was not all encompassing (it allowed for enjoyments) but it seems to have nevertheless represented a burden for him. It led him to what his great-grandson Douglas recalled as the "considerable" expense of his official duties as High Sheriff (D.Vanderstegen 1935:10).

Even so, duty involved Vanderstegen in inflicting punishment: "it will appear to the candid Reader that, throughout the whole of the Author's proceeding, his object has only been to obtain justice" (Anonymous 1794: iii). Justice, as in the courts over which he presided, necessitated him in the punishment of offenders. For transgressors he was direct in his condemnations—over the actions of the "ungovernable" bargemasters (1794a: 6), the impertinences of "persons who call themselves engineers" (p. 26), and the prevarications of the Corporation of London that were the result of its "unwillingness to expend the money necessary" (p. 41). Yet while Vanderstegen may have addressed the "candid Reader" he was not always a candid man himself. When his duty compelled him to mount a sustained attack on the integrity of Loveden and on the opponents of improvement at Windsor (1794a) none were mentioned by name but all would have been readily identifiable to his audience. Such an attack allowed him the luxury of punishment with the benefits of plausible deniability.

In conclusion, Vanderstegen's adherence to a code of rational obligation reflected in his notion of "manly perseverance" the converse of what he alluded to as a "disgraceful and contemptible situation". In his attitude to the outlawed "contemptible" may perhaps be seen his attitude to the outlawed natural of the foxes he hunted as much as those who broke the laws relating to salt duties. A similar approach can be seen in his attitude to the river. In Vanderstegen's discourse "Plain" common sense, allied to "indefatigable energy" was the solution to improving the irrational out-of-placeness of a fallen nature in need of "good order".

Both the Thames and its navigation were the source of considerable interest to Vanderstegen, and as an active member of the riparian gentry and brother-in-law of Charles Asgill this is unsurprising. As he demonstrated in his pamphlet on the Thames (1794a), this interest was not merely important because it took him away on his "active able" business, but also because it provided a focus for his "indefatigable energy", the very imperfectness of the river's nature seems to have been a provocation for him and the aim of his work seems to have been to project his own values over the ungovernable Thames, to make of it a river subject to the "justice and good order" of which he was a lover.

For Vanderstegen, "good order" was a matter both of honour and of property. It is plain that the notion of "deserting the navigation" must have had considerable resonance for a man of honour, let alone a man of agrarian property, but there is more than that. The propertied order of the "center of the navigation" was threatened with decentring by the proponents of new canals, its value by devaluation. The fairness for which Vanderstegen strove was under real and metaphorical attack by these new routes that would bypass Cane End and reject the nature represented by the river and property relations.

Vanderstegen saw himself as a needed gentleman at the centre of power. The respect he earned and the values he ascribed to, as part of an immigrant family, was threatened by change. As he showed on a number of occasions when angered, although his rational self always seems to have justified his anger against those who transgressed good order, Vanderstegen was capable of responding with zeal.

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