Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mr Rosenbaum's Chess Painting. Part 9: Mr. R. again...

This is the first of two more episodes continuing our investigation into Anthony Rosenbaum’s 1874-1880 painting depicting an assembly of Victorian chessers. You will find links to the previous eight here.

Chess Players (1880) by Anthony Rosenbaum
© National Portrait Gallery
Earlier instalments identified the sitters, and followed the journey of the painting from its unveiling in the Mayfair residence of Dr Ballard, Junior (back row, fourth from right), to its present hanging place in Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales. We also had a look at several of the characters associated with it. This included, of course, the artist himself, Anthony Rosenbaum (in profile, back row right) who left his trace in the chess record from the 1870s through to his death in 1888 (as he approached his sixtieth year) of somewhat ambiguous import.

Now, and thanks to a tip-off from fellow blogger Richard T., there is more to tell about Rosenbaum who, you may remember from last time, came from Hamburg and was to be found in Hull, in the north-east of England in 1851. It is to those middle years of the century that we turn, though not on the chilly North Sea coast, but further afield. To the Crimean first, and the war for which it is remembered: the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cardigan, Miss Nightingale, Mary Seacole, 1854 and all that. It was fought between an alliance of the British and French against the Russians over the decaying Ottoman Empire; heady stuff, in which the main action, ending in 1856, was in the East.

A Punch Cartoon by John Leech.
From here
The Crimean campaign, marked as it was by British misjudgment and cock-up, unfolded on the edge of Asia. Having got there we must now go on to our real destination, and to a largely forgotten and murky side-show to the main event, marked also by British misjudgment and cock-up, over on the other side of the globe: in North America.

This provides the stage for our next encounter with Rosenbaum and also, while we are about it, a revealing insight into the fractious first steps in the "Special Relationship". It is a long and involved story and some background may be helpful before we eventually rendezvous with Mr. R.

To bolster troop numbers for the Crimean war effort, the British Government passed a Foreign Enlistment Act in December 1854 with the aim of signing-up a “Foreign Legion” (i.e. an army of foreigners), and where better to start the recruitment drive than across the pond in the United States where large numbers of immigrants, especially Germans, were looking for work. The Brits reckoned that a regular Army pay cheque would be an irresistible lure (another would be the promise of land in Canada). Here is how they broadcast their offer in March 1855 :

Recruiting in the US was, however, fraught with difficulties both practical (poor communication, distance to the theatre of war, questionable loyalties to the Crown) and, even more tricky still, legal and diplomatic: the US was strictly neutral in the War, and recruiting within its borders was an offence against its domestic law.

The enterprise needed careful management, and a discreet approach was initially advised by John Crampton, the British Minister to the US in Washington, who used his Secret Service account for seed money. He was in weekly contact with the Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon, back in London, communicating via sealed despatch by surface ship lumbering across the Atlantic.

An elaborate scheme was quickly established, overtaking the cautious Crampton, based on a legal interpretation, punted by the Brits, that as long as any sign-up and payment was not done on US soil, but say in nearby Nova Scotia (as the advert above implied, and which was governed by the British), then it wouldn’t violate US law. Hence the device of simply inviting men in the States to travel to up to Halifax (albeit with an escort, on specially chartered packets from Boston), there to be formally contracted into the Army by magistrates waiting on stand-by to swear them in. All in all a cunning plan, and for a recruitment strategy a tidy piece of joined-up thinking.

From an 1855  map of North America.
Halifax in Nova Scotia is top right, Boston is middle,
and New York is at the bottom 

(and they are still in the same place today). 
The scheme was enthusiastically embraced by the British Provincial Governor in Nova Scotia, while our man in Washington, John Crampton, the "Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary", also went along with it, now recognising the potential for thousands of recruits, as did the British Consuls in New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati who dutifully got stuck in. A regimental structure was established, and a Colonel for the Legion was sworn, along with other officers, and depots and receiving stations established. Recruiters-cum-escorts identified and organised the men into squads, and delivered them on a payment per head basis to a number of “superintendants,” one of whom was Frederick Carstensen, a Dane, who will crop up again in the story. There was an infrastructure of rented meeting-rooms, lodgings, and chartered ships; not forgetting the recruits themselves, speaking in tongues, occasionally unruly, and with allegiances divided and various. And one way or another, everyone had to be paid.

An undercover operation this was obviously not, and it was in full swing by March 1855, when, to reassure the US authorities, Crampton met the US Secretary of State, George Marcy. Rest assured that Her Majesty's Government desires to honour American neutrality was the message. Lord Clarendon in London said so.

Britain needed the men, sure enough; but the US wanted nothing to do with the "sanguinary and melancholy conflict" in the Crimea. As one of their senior law officers declared, with Messianic zeal:
"In this free and republican country, the home ordained by Providence for the oppressed of all nations, we have very little to do with the struggles for supremacy and power by the different crowned heads of the Old World."       
This quote, and other material for this post, comes from papers published at the time by the American Senate and Congress which document, in sometimes bewildering detail, the whole business. All sources will be given at the end of the second part.

The Brits were treading a fine line, and from the off the US authorities were vigilant for the least infraction, alerted not so much by those attention-seeking adverts placed by loose-cannons in the British camp (also published in German), but by the swarm of police officers, agents and informers that buzzed around this nest of intrigue: men from the US Marshal dogging the steps of the recruiters and diplomats, Russian spies and agents provocateurs out to entrap their Crimean foe, Irish Fenians (or so it was alleged) plotting mischief to relieve their own colonial oppression, and sundry others hoping for an easy buck at the Brits’ expense.

A Force Ten Diplomatic Storm was about to engulf Clarendon and his officials.

Foreign enlistment: running into choppy water. 
From here
The question was: were the Brits overstepping the mark and suborning people illegally on American soil and, if so, on whose say so - might it go, duplicitously, all the way up to Clarendon? Arrests and preliminary judicial hearings were not long in coming, the heat became too much, and the Brits got out of the kitchen in August 1885; although the ramifications rattled on well into 1856. To cover their tracks the Consular staff tried to retrieve potentially embarrassing letters, risking even further exposure. Out of obligation, and damage-limitation, the British provided legal and financial assistance to any of their people in water now hot.

The most sensational trial began in September 1855: that of Henry Hertz and Emanuel Perkins. Hertz was apparently convicted, but the belligerent US Attorney General, Caleb Cushing, intervened to entreat the court to hear a further confession (or "confession" in inverted commas, as one commentator put it) from Hertz giving elaborate evidence of meetings, letters of authority, and of payments made so as to incriminate Crampton – who, after all, was nothing less than a minister of HMG. In the legal fire-fight the Brits responded with third party affadavits claiming that Hertz was, in short, a spy in the pay of the Russians. He, and another infiltrator were named, and denounced as of "infamous character", on the other side of the Atlantic in a parliamentary debate on the 30 June and 1 July 1856 - two days, a measure of the seriousness of the breach with the US. There was even talk of war.

Cushing's agenda, it is said, was to deflect attention from Pierce's lack-lustre Presidency. If he could implicate officers of HMG so much the better to demonstrate that the US was now no push-over on the world stage. His strategy would be greatly assisted if the smaller fry were to give "State's evidence" against those higher up the British chain of command.
Lord Clarendon caught between President Franklin Pierce (left) and Attorney General Caleb Cushing (right)
(From here, here, and here)
When preparing to brief the President in December 1855 Cushing asked for a summary of cases opened in New York earlier in the year. And who's that, in the small print, accused in early June?

In spite of the omission of his forename it's our man, Anthony Rosenbaum, then in his mid-twenties. In fact, in spite of the fuzziness (click-on to enlarge), you can see him several times: at June 7 Rosenbaum appears twice as an "accused"; and by June 25 he appears as "a complainant".

It's him all right, because when he was appeared, named in full, as a witness for the State at the trial of Carstensen and others in July/August 1855 he described himself as “a painter of likenesses”.  His role in the recruiting machine, as stated in another report, was "said to be chief enlisting agent in New York", though clearly subordinate to Carstensen.

At the trail, Rosenbaum’s testimony, spread over several days, tells us more. His evidence-in-chief gives a detailed description of one operation when he “delivered” a number of Germans to Boston - he would be paid $4 a head for twelve of them - there to board their ship (“one of them was intoxicated and made a great noise and would be very likely to draw the attention of the police towards us”); that he went back, for a celebration, to “Kipp’s boarding house, in Washington Street, and had champagne etc, which was paid for by Mr Carstensen….”, who offered Rosenbaum “a commission in the legion if [he] would only work for him…” (i.e. an upgrade from casual to permanent engagement).

Rosenbaum was ready to give evidence further to implicate the British Consular staff in New York, but after a Perry Mason-style objection this evidence was not actually heard: the trial, said the Judge noting the peculiar detail, was concerned only about events in Boston. Moreover, according to a press report over here (Morning Post, 20 August 1885), Commissioner Bridgham hearing the case declared Rosenbaum untrustworthy when dismissing him from his obligations as a witness.

From here
So, where have we got to? Anthony Rosenbaum was in the States earning "head-money" as an enlisting agent. His activities took him into the orbit of the British consulate staff. He attracted the interest of the US law enforcement agencies, he was arrested, and then appeared as a witness to give State's evidence. This is reminiscent of - how can we put it - that apparent elasticity of scruple in the character of Rosenbaum familiar to us from episode 8: i.e. the later business of the possibly plagiarised chess problem, the supposedly questionable financial arrangements at the West End Chess Club, and the queried (by some) financial deal with the 1883 International Tournament in London. Was he ducking and diving in the 50s, as much as he appeared to be doing in the 70s and 80s?

Above we have touched on but part of Rosenbaum's testimony at Carstensen's trial. His later cross-examination tells us more about his biography, and this we will look at next week when we will also pick over the fall-out from the enlistment affair and the ensuing "Cessation of Intercourse" (as the diplomatic schism was called, odd as it sounds today).   

What is curious from the chess point of view is that the enlistment debacle involved two other chessers, although one was a mere bystander on this side of the Atlantic: Marmaduke Wyvill M.P., second in the 1851 London Tournament, who was in the House and voted to support the Government's handling of the affair at in the crisis debate at the end of June 1856. This he managed to do without having stirred from his customary somnolence on the back benches - he is not recorded as having spoken in the debate, nor much at all come to that in his twenty year stint as an M.P. (as an interrogation of Hansard reveals; or rather, doesn't).

In the game below Wyvill goes down in flames; a fate also looming for the British diplomats in the US. Both he and his opponent  are in Rosenbaum's painting (Wyvill - foreground, to the left of the commissionaire; Löwenthal - by the top left-hand board, grey bearded and balding).

The other chesser, who was more centrally involved in the affair, was also a better player than Anthony Rosenbaum was ever to be. He is not in the painting, but will appear in next Saturday's post.

While we are on the subject: to get the measure of Rosenbuam's later chess strength here is a table from the City of London CC Handicap Tournament in 1874/5 (for which his painting was initially intended as the prize). It shows him 4th class for handicap purposes, which is to say that players in the 1st class (here Bird, Zukertort - both in the painting - etc) would have given him Knight odds.
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