Scandal in Littleport and the tragic end of the Vicar in India

The son of a wealthy Huntingdonshire attorney who later moved to Ely, George Peacock was well educated, eventually entering Queen’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a B.A. degree in 1734. He was ordained a priest in 1736 at Lincoln and was given a curacy in Norfolk.
Whilst in Norfolk he met and fell in love with a butcher’s daughter, much to the displeasure of his father who thought the girl ignorant and below his son’s social status. When against his father’s will he married the girl, his family in Ely disowned him.
In 1742 he acquired the vacant living at Littleport, it is said, with the help of “some good friends.” Within a few years the Rev. Peacock had fallen into the habit of “drinking and other disorders.” It is by no means clear what the “other disorders” were, but an entry in the Vestry Minutes of 1746 suggests that Peacock may have been “borrowing” money from the parish chest, no doubt to fuel his worsening drinking habit. By 1747 his drinking had become so bad that Bishop Butts was obliged to remove him temporarily to recover from his “habits.” The Bishop managed to find him a place on a naval vessel, HMS Vigilant, as a chaplain, hoping that a long voyage would cure him of his bad ways.
In his absence a Mr. Bentham, a minor canon, was given the curacy of the parish. This was the Rev. James Bentham, an historian who later became famous for writing his life’s work. “The History and Antiquities of the Conventual and Cathedral Church of Ely.”
When HMS Vigilant sailed from England, Britain had been at war with its old enemy France for seven years in a bitter dispute called the War of the Austrian Succession. HMS Vigilant probably formed part of a fleet, under the command of Admiral Edward Boscawen, carrying some 4000 soldiers to shore up the defence of Fort St. David on the east coast of India. Fort St. David was a small, strong fortification built near the town of Cuddalore, and had become the administration centre for British interests in southern India. Just prior to the fleets arrival on the 8th August 1748, the French had laid siege to the fort, but had given up when the East India Company forces countered the attack.
On arrival of the fleet, Admiral Boscawen immediately commenced operations against the nearby French colony at Pondicherry, but the heat, sickness and the onset of the monsoon took its toll of the army, and eventually forced him to raise the siege on the 17th of October and returned to Fort St. David.
Within two months of arriving at Fort St. David, Rev. George Peacock, Vicar of Littleport, was dead. He most likely succumbed to sickness and fever, and was buried there on the 12th November 1748.
Roger Rudderham

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