I can’t remember where I got this story, but families are like that. There can be a thread of consciousness or myth which gets handed down, almost floating through the ether I suppose. One of these stories is that my gggggfr Louis Bazalgette travelled to America with Lafayette, fought at the battle of Brandywine, established a string of fur-trading posts, married the daughter of a fur merchant in New York and then moved to London. Oh yes, and he found the time to be a privateer as well. I have made it very clear in my book that this is impossible, but there are still members of my family who believe this story.
Another story – and this is the one I am focusing on here – was that ‘someone’ was viewing the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle and came across a sword which had been presented to the king by a Mr. Bazalgette ‘to a great traveller from a great traveller’. I have been pursuing this story for over twenty years, though not full-time I hasten to add. I asked the Royal Archives some years ago but they said they could find nothing about it.
The British Newspaper Archive has been turning up some little gems recently in response to my searches. Imagine my surprise to find this snippet in the Nottingham Evening Post for Wednesday 11 July 1900:
QUEEN’ S CHINESE RELICS.
Her Majesty has at Windsor a small collection of curios, reminiscent of former Chinese wars. There a suit of Chinese armour, comprising cuirass of lacquered steel, a half-mask with gilt teeth, and metal coverings for the arms with gilt ornaments. There is also ancient knife, the ivory handle of which is carved into the figure of a Chinaman, and a one-edged dagger, with an engraved wooden scabbard. Greater immediate interest attaches to a similar dagger of damascened steel, with the horn handle weighted with lead. This was wrested from a Chinaman in a murderous struggle by Mr. Bazalgette, who presented it to George III in 1807. There is a group comprising javelin, a matchsocket, a specimen of a matchlock with tripod gun, a campanular wall piece, archaic iron cannon, and a brass rocket-tube, all of which were taken from the Chinese at Szkee in 1842.
The obvious family member who qualifies is Louis’ grandson George, who was a Royal Marine and commanded the British garrison during the Pig War. The problem with George is that he wasn’t born until 1829 and didn’t serve in the Chinese wars until 1857.
Could the ‘murderous’ Chinaman have been in England and the struggler have been Louis the tailor? He is the only member of the family who would have been sufficiently adult at the time. And unless George III was somehow involved why would the dagger have been presented to him? Why do we have no more information about this murderous struggle?
This looks like a job for Lucy Worsley!