Hermit: The Romance,The Scandal and The Upset

Robert Nightingale (Maldon 1815 - 1895)

The painting of Hermit on the East stairs is by Robert Nightingale, 1815-1895. He was a painter of landscape, portraits and equestrian subjects. One of his most important patrons was Henry, 1st Viscount Chaplin. Nightingale collaborated with his son Basil in painting Hermit.

Mount Stewart Hague Corridor Hermit

The Mount Stewart collection has two of his paintings depicting the occasion when he worked with his father on the Hermit portrait. The painting of Hermit on the East Stairs and the paraphernalia of his tail are not currently on the general tour route at the moment

Basil Nightingale was a sporting painter in oil, pastel and watercolour. A fine artist, he painted with humour, always making his subjects the most important feature. The backgrounds were normally painted in grey or brown washes to complement the subject, but they rarely intrude.

The Romance,The Scandal and The Upset

Hermit was a chestnut stallion standing 15.2 hands, with a small white blaze. He was known to be a good-natured horse with a gentle disposition. Born in 1864, he was bought as a yearling for 1000 guineas by Captain James Machell on behalf of Henry Chaplin. Chaplin would later become the father of Edith, Lady Londonderry

By the end of 1866, Hermit had established himself as one of the best colts of his generation, and was a contender for the next year’s classics.

In the same year that Hermit was born, a human saga was unfolding, and ‘Squire” Henry Chaplin was at its vortex.

He was then a young man in his twenties, as was his close friend, Henry Hastings, 4th Marquess of Hastings. Both had inherited great wealth, both made expensive thoroughbred purchases, and indulged in costly gambling wagers. They were also rivals for the same lady!

Henry Chaplin was betrothed to Lady Florence Paget in 1864, and they were considered to be a great match. He was tall and handsome, and she was described as ‘the Pocket Venus’. The wedding, which was to be the society wedding of the year was a few days away, when Lady Florence eloped with Hastings, leaving Chaplin the embarrassed victim of one of the juiciest scandals

London had witnessed for a long time. Rivalry between the two men, which involved much acrimony on the part of Hastings, was played out on the racecourse. Hastings was described as ’bought horses as if he was drunk, and betted as if he was mad’.

This state of affairs continued until the Epsom Derby in 1867. Hermit was entered, and began his training schedule. But a fortnight before the race, he burst a blood vessel in his nose! It seemed that he would have to be withdrawn. His wily trainer, Captain Machell, kept his counsel, and kept Hermit in his stall, with his head tied up in the air! The punters, however, heard about the problem, and Hermit’s odds went from favourite to 55-1.

The day of the race, 22 May, was cold and dark, with heavy snow falling, and Hermit looked particularly miserable. There were 30 runners, including a horse belonging to Lord Hastings.  There were 10 false starts, which delayed the race for an hour, and must have affected the runners condition. At the last turn, there were only 3 horses left. Two of them were stablemates, Marksman and Hermit. Together they raced to the finish, with Hermit winning by a neck.

Basil Nightingale ,Tiptoe through the Tulips
Basil Nightingale ,Tiptoe through the Tulips

The Marquess of Hastings’ horse did not complete the course. Chaplin won a fortune. Hastings, on the other hand, lost £100.000 in wagers, and he further owed Chaplin £20,000 as a result of his bets.

Hastings was ruined, and he died a few years later aged 26. His last words were “Hermit’s Derby broke my heart”

Happiness was to come to Henry Chaplin, as he married another Florence, Lady Florence Leveson Gower, a daughter of the Duke of Sutherland.  It was a blissfully happy marriage and they had 3 children. Sadly, Lady Florence died from complications following the birth of their third child. Their first daughter, Edith Helen Chaplin, was to become the wife of the 7th Marquess.

Hermit continued to race until the age of five, and had a long and highly successful career at stud. He died in 1890, aged 25, and his skeleton was preserved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons