Hunting Days of Yore
London-born in 1786, George Osbaldeston was a natural athlete. He rowed for various schools that he attended, including Eton and Oxford, neither of which he matriculated. He assiduously avoided academic work, but set high standards for rowdy behavior and was expelled from most of these fine institutions.
He was an outstanding cricketeer, bowling and batting as an amateur in numerous important matches. In 1818, however, he was barred for life from membership in a club as the result of an intemperate outburst, effectively finishing his career in important cricket matches.
He was a noted shot, once shooting ninety-eight pheasants with one hundred cartridges. On one occasion, when gambler Lord George Bentinck fired his pistol in the air while watching a race, Osbaldeston sent a warning shot cleanly through Bentinck’s hat. Perhaps this was the race after which he fought a duel with Lord Bentinck, or perhaps it was another. In either event, no one was injured and the pair eventually reconciled.
He rode winning horses in races on the flat and in celebrated steeplechase meets. He engaged in carriage races, endurance races, and he also bred racehorses. In an endurance race in 1831 at Newmarket, he rode two hundred miles in eight hours and forty-two minutes, using twenty-eight horses—an average of nearly twenty-three miles per hour. But his great passion was foxhunting.
Osbaldeston was only six when his father died, and he was brought up mainly by his mother. She was an extravagant political hostess and squandered much of his inheritance. For most of his life, he engaged in trying to win bets and purses in sporting competitions to recover his lost fortune. In the end, however, his winnings were vastly overshadowed by his gambling debts and he died almost penniless.
Pressured by his mother and a local Whig politician, he stood for Parliament against his wishes and was elected. No surprise to him, he found it a complete bore and scarcely ever attended. He was much more engaged in hunting, racing, and shooting. At the next election, he resigned.
He had his own pack of hounds from the age of sixteen, and was Master of nine hunts, including the Atherstone (1815–17), the Quorn (1817–21, 1823–27), and the Pytchley (1827–34). While he was regarded by contemporaries as one of the best sportsmen of his generation, he was not the easiest man to get along with.
At age twenty-five, he was engaged to carry the horn at the Burton when the young Lord and Master, a year younger than Osbaldeston, died. In his adventurous manner, it is said that he “soon fell out with everyone except the foxes which he pursued with great noise, energy, boastfulness, courage and determination, to the far corners of the country.”
Squire Osbaldeston wasn’t the only Joker in the deck of sporting Englishmen. During his period as Master, the hunting fields were wildly boisterous and unruly. This example is from Osbaldeston’s autobiography, published in 1926, many years after his death. It recounts one of many such experiences as Master of the Quorn.
“We found in the neighborhood of Rolleston, and came away with a tremendous scent. Leaving Quenby Hall to the left, the fox ran straight for Ashby Pastures. About a mile before you reach the Pastures there is a brook at the end of a very large field; the hounds had never come to a check up to this point, and had run so hard that out of a very large field only Lord Plymouth, Mr. Blunt and myself were still with them, the rest being completely beaten. We had to jump a low rail into the field before mentioned; and one hound, from what cause I don’t know, separated from the pack and was in the act of taking it to join the rest when Mr. Blunt rode over him. I had only just before particularly warned him about doing this, telling him if he did so I should stop hounds. In the very act of doing it he cried, “D— the hound!” and snapping his fingers at me, added, “”You can’t stop them!
“I answered that I would soon show him whether I could or not, and galloping as fast as my horse would go, headed them just before they reached the brook and stopped them. Lord Plymouth came up and entreated me to let them hunt the fox, as he must die soon, and this was the most glorious run he had ever seen in his life, and over the best country. I told him I was always as good as my word. I said it certainly distressed me exceedingly to act as I did, but to be defied and have my authority flouted by one of the most reckless of my field was sufficient reason to take such strong measures. It is right to say that when we met next day, in the Harborough country, Blunt came up to me and made a most ample apology. We were always very good friends both before and after this unfortunate occurrence. Men get excited in the heat of a good thing with hounds.”
The excesses of Squire Osbaldeston’s sporting life were matched equally by his love life. He attempted to seduce his mother’s friend, Lady Monson, claiming that she was the one woman he had ever really loved. Staying at the house of a friend, he seduced both daughters on the same night. It is rumored he had a son by a Miss Green, a high-born but illegitimate prostitute. In 1851, at the age of sixty-five, he married one Elizabeth Williams and was able to live in her house at Regent’s Park.
A friend and rival commented, "He was open-hearted and trusted others; he was constantly deceived and robbed, and when his affairs were getting into confusion, he had not the moral nerve to pull up in time; nor had he a sufficiently business-head on his shoulders to guide him safely out of his troubles." Squire Osbaldeston died on August 1, 1866 in London at the age of eighty, leaving precious few stones unturned.
Posted September 9, 2019