The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Tale of fraud and intrigue comes to light from cryptic letter that accompanies picture as family consigns it to auction
Bottled beer, Rupert Murdoch and a very public scandal – the secret history of an Elizabethan portrait. Image courtesy of Ewbank’s Auctions.

WOKING.- He may look a rather severe figure but Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s for 42 years throughout Elizabeth I’s reign, had a lighter side to his nature – as the man credited with inventing bottled beer.

A cryptic letter that comes with the portrait has led to the discovery of links to Rupert Murdoch and a very public family scandal whose resolution involved the portrait being granted as a gift.

The story has unfolded as Dean Nowell’s descendants consigned this portrait of the long-lived scholar and cleric, born around 1517, who died in 1602, for sale to Ewbank’s Auctions of Surrey, who will offer it as a highlight of their three-day 30th Anniversary sale from March 18-20.

A keen fisherman, Nowell was known as a piscator hominum – a fisher of men, the title granted to St Peter by Jesus and associated with priests – and according to Thomas Fuller’s History of the Worthies of Britain, he accidentally invented bottled beer on one of his excursions with rod and line to the river bank.

The story goes that Nowell left a bottle of beer, decanted from a barrel, on the river bank during a fishing trip, forgetting about it. He rediscovered it by chance a few days later and found it was still “perfectly drinkable”. When he opened the still-full bottle, “he found no bottle, but a gun, such was the sound at the opening thereof; and this is believed the original of bottled ale in England”.

Even more fascinating is the tale behind the letter written by Robert Sherson, a doctor and apothecary, to his cousin, the Dean’s namesake Alexander Nowell, in 1811, gifting him the portrait in gratitude for “your obliging endeavours to defend the conduct of my oppressed and much injured son”.

Research has revealed that the “much injured son” was also called Robert Sherson, a senior official in the East India Company and in charge of famine relief in storm-hit Madras in 1807.

An article by Professor Mark Knights of Warwick University’s History department details how Sherson had ordered a survey of grain supplies after storms tore off the roof the company’s grain store, signing off the estimate without sufficiently checking whether it was accurate.

Sherson’s arch enemy, a more senior official named Mungo Dick, exploited the mistake to accuse Sherson of over-estimating the losses and embezzling the profits from selling off part of the grain supply.

A committee of enquiry, in which Dick was appointed as chairman, also found Sherson guilty of selling grain at inflated prices, thereby profiteering from the famine, and he was dismissed from his post as deputy Customs Master, Assay Master and Director of the Government Bank.

Sherson, in turn, had accused a local accountant who was loyal to Dick of forging the accounts that pointed to his alleged guilt.

Despite his disgrace, Sherson eventually had his day in court, although it took until 1814 for the Supreme Court in Madras to vindicate him. The court threw the accusations against him out, arguing that he might have been the victim of fraud and conspiracy. One judge went as far as to condemn Mungo Dick, adding that had it been a British court he would have been jailed “as a perverter of justice”.

Entirely exonerated, Sherson was reinstated to the East India Company the following year and compensated for his suspension and humiliation.

Despite this, the stain on his character continued to haunt him and it was only after Alexander Nowell, a Member of Parliament and a cousin, waged a sustained campaign in his favour that his name was finally cleared in public.

The letter, dated 27th January 1811, shows that Nowell had started his campaign long before Sherson was cleared in court. While the father expressed his gratitude in presenting Nowell with the portrait, his son went even further, naming his own son Alexander Nowell Sherson in honour of his champion.

Professor Knights also revealed that the much injured Robert Sherson was the great, great, great grandfather on his mother’s side of media baron Rupert Murdoch.

Other copies of this image are held at his alma mater, Brasenose College, at Oxford University, and St Paul's Cathedral, and an engraving after it was published in 1796.

The estimate is £4,000 to £6,000.

A further letter from Robert Sherson senior to Alexander Nowell, dated 25th January 1816, begs him to accept another gift of a painting, this time by Breugel. The picture, dating to 1588, is also included in Ewbank’s sale, although it is catalogued here as being from the studio of Jan Breugel the Younger and also has an estimate of £4,000-6,000.

Today's News

March 11, 2020

A Philadelphia museum is in #MeToo reset mode

As tensions rise with Iran, so does interest in art it inspired

Waddington Custot opens an exhibition of work by Barry Flanagan

Anton Coppola, opera conductor in filmmaking clan, dies at 102

Pace Gallery announces representation of Trevor Paglen and solo exhibition at Pace in London this fall

Exhibition at Albertina Museum focuses on Michael Horowitz’s photographs from the 1960s to the 1980s

Emma Talbot wins the 8th edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women

Large cultural events in Berlin cancelled over virus fears

Cottone Auctions announces highlights included in its Spring Fine Art & Antiques Auction

Kris Lemsalu Malone & Kyp Malone Lemsalu open 'Love Song Sing-Along' at KW Institute for Contemporary Art

The Morgan Library & Museum announces new curatorial appointments and advancements

Now on view at the Crocker Art Museum: Akinsanya Kambon's "American Expressions/African Roots"

Tale of fraud and intrigue comes to light from cryptic letter that accompanies picture as family consigns it to auction

New African art gallery opens with a show by Oluwole Omofemi

Crisis-hit Paris Opera cancels shows over virus

Phoenix Art Museum appoints new fashion curator

Rare Invisible Man poster to disappear in Heritage Auctions Movie Posters Auction

'Norman Ackroyd: Etching the Archipelago' on view at Watts Contemporary Gallery

Main exhibition of Lisbon Triennale 2019 travels to Lausanne

Unit London opens an exhibition of works by Michael Staniak

Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers presents a two-part camera extravaganza sale

New multisensory art exhibition opens at Peabody Essex Museum

Fast, absurd, aesthetic: Art of mechanical transformation on view at Kunstmuseum St. Gallen

LA Opera deems Domingo misconduct accusations credible

Explain How Local SEO Works: Step by Step

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

sa gaming free credit

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful