Date: Wednesday 27th October 1976
Venue: The Birmingham Club, Ethel Street, Birmingham
Sponsors: Mr Evan Price MBE, Mr Roger Lees, Mr H Leyton Greener
Colonel Peter Hawker
The dinner was held at the Birmingham Club, Ethel Street on Wednesday 27th October 1976. It was different from previous dinners in that it three sponsors as well as the Chairman in a co-ordinating role. Peter Hawker had such a many-sided character that it was felt that a multiple approach was necessary and would be agreeable.
Our sponsors were introduced by the Chairman. First Mr Evan Price, expert in many things connected and unconnected with shooting. He was most notorious among shooting members of the Club for the deep boom and cloud of smoke when he discharged his piece loaded with his own home-made cartridges. Next Mr Leyton Greener, last of a long line of Birmingham gunsmiths whose ancestor was well known to Hawker, but who tonight will refer to Hawker’s fishing interests. Then Mr Roger Lees, Proof Master of the Gun Barrel Proof House and custodian of Hawker’s punt gun.
Before this introduction however we drank Colonel Hawker’s Cold Punch as described in his Instructions to young sportsmen in all that relates to Guns and Shooting. The recipe was given to him as a young man when quartered in Glasgow “where cold punch was universally drunk”. Here is the recipe: –
“A wine glass nearly full of best refined lump sugar pounded.
Twelve ditto of cold spring water.
A lime, and half a lemon (or, if no lime, a whole lemon, which
might yield about half a wine glass full of juice.)
Two wine glasses brimfull of old Jamaica rum.”
When we went into the dining room, we saw in front of us on a table an immense gun. It proved to be a double-barrelled shot gun but was the size of an anti-tank gun. It could be lifted with some effort by two people. It was Colonel Hawker’s punt gun, now the property of the Wild Fowlers Association. Its locks had been removed but we were later told that it used to have one percussion lock and one flint look so that one would go off slightly before the other – the first for the birds on the water, the second as they rose in the air.
We sat down and after introducing the sponsors, the Chairman told us a little of Hawker’s life. He was in the first place a soldier, but, shot in the thigh at Talavera, he was invalided home. He returned to the Peninsular but was not fit and invalided home again and was gazetted out of the army in 1813. His wound troubled him for the rest of his life but did not stop him from pursuing an amazing career as a Sportsman. He was also a keen musician and inventor. He sketched well as some of the illustrations in the Instructions to young sportsmenshow. The breadth of his interests is perhaps made clear in the following comment from his diary “in a word, the view creates a sort of sensation which we feel on hearing Mozart’s, music, seeing Shakespeare’s tragedies, hearing Braham sing, or seeing ourselves surrounded by a good evening flight of wildfowl”.
The Chairman also told us that he had learned, too late to rope him in to help, that our member, George Austin, had 38 years ago made a study of Hawker’s Instructions and published two excellent articles in The Field.
We then had Turtle Soup with Sherry. The story of Hawker’s connection with turtle soup was told to us by Evan Price. It was on the second return from Portugal on 19th April 1811 that he made the following entry in his diary: –
“Passed a turtle sleeping on the water. A boat was immediately sent after him, and when, with great caution, the crew had rowed close to him, he was taken up and brought on board.”
He went on on 21st April: –
“Having neither aldermen’s cooks nor London recipes on board, we were so hard run for dressing our turtle, that I was the man honoured with that appointment; and, as my recipe’ was most highly approved, I have made a memorandum of the way precisely in which I dressed it, viz: Having the turtle killed, boned and well cleaned with scalding water over night, it was put in the saucepan about half-past nine in the morning, with more than twice as much water as would cover it, and then left to keep boiling. At eleven I put in two onions (cut in quarters), a piece of butter half the size of an orange mixed with flour (and a teaspoonful of fine sugar), and a crust of burnt bread. At twelve I added half a pint of Madeira, and a small teaspoonful of cayenne, a tablespoonful of anchovy essence, two tablespoonsful of Coratch sauce, some allspice, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns: some pickled samphire and capsicorn, with all the juice and half the rind of a large lemon. At two I added another squeeze of lemon, with two glasses more Madeira, and (after it had boiled with these a few minutes) it was served up.”
We can’t say how our soup was prepared.
Evan Price then went on to tell us about Hawker, the poacher. It was apparently quite in order for a gentleman to poach his neighbour’s birds in those days. He described how he planned attack on the preserves of Lord Portsmouth by sending men with guns and pistols to draw off the keepers while he shot 28 pheasants, 3 partridge and a hare on his Lordship‘s land.
Our next course was Broiled Trout. With it we drank Vinho Verde from Portugal. We don’t know that Hawker drank it when he was there but it seems probable.
Leyton Greener told us that Hawker was not a dedicated fisherman. He only fished occasionally except at May fly time. One year he took 100 good trout in eleven days. In matters of fishing also, what was “done” was rather different from today. He always got whatever fish he needed for himself whether this involved a fly, trolling or a wire noose on a stick – what a fishing license refers to as “an unauthorised engine”. One day he caught 40 trout of over a pound in two hours. Of course, his river was quite unpolluted and no-one else fished there. Leyton Greener thought he fished mainly for uneducated trout. Even so, for a non-dedicated fisherman…
Next, we ate Mallard with Hawker’s own sauce and baked potato accompanied by an excellent Claret such as was somehow still obtainable even during the Napoleonic wars.
Hawker’s sauce for wildfowl is as follows. The extract is from “Instructions” again.
“…as so many fail in adapting their sauces to wildfowl I shall take the liberty of giving one that has been preferred to about fifty others; and was, at one time, not to be got without the fee of a guinea.
Recipe for Sauce to Wildfowl
Port wine, or claret 1 glass
Sauce à la Russe* (the older it is the better) 1 tablespoonful
Catsup 1 ditto
Lemon juice 1 ditto
Lemon peel 1 slice
Shallot (large) 1, cut in slices
Cayenne pepper (the darkest, not that like brick dust) 4 grains
Mace 1 or 2 blades
To be scalded, strained, and added to the mere gravy, which comes
from the bird in roasting.
To complete this, the fowl should be cut up in a silver dish, that has a lamp under, while the sauce is simmering with it.
Let a goose, or any strong or fat wild fowl, be roasted with the addition of a small onion, and a pared lemon, in the inside; as this will draw out the strong fat, and give the bird a milder taste.
*Introduced by the late Mr Aveling, in Albermarle Street, and now sold there by his successors.”
Roger Lees told us more about Hawker’s shooting activities. He came to Birmingham in 1849 and spent three weeks here while alterations were made to his guns. He stayed with Westley Richards and when he left said, “I must not take leave of Birmingham without doing the justice to this town to say that I never met with a more civil or obliging set of people than the inhabitants of this place, which is a town of unrivalled industry and mechanical genius.”
His shooting skill was phenomenal. He tried to get two birds with one shot – what he called a cannon. He once bagged five birds with two shots. Another day he shot twenty partridges and a land rail in twenty shots. In four days In September 1837, he fired 83 shots missed once and bagged 89 head of game. As a wild fowler his physical endurance was extraordinary. Once he spent 18 hours in a punt in the Solent in February. During that time, he fired three shots with the gun we saw. With those three shots he bagged 57 gees.
Roger Lees gave us a final quotation from Hawker’s diaries: 30th October 1812
“On my return to Penrith about 5 pm I got a brace of trout dressed, some good gravy soup, a roast chicken, cranberry tarts, jellies, etc. all elegantly served up and with great civility for 6s 8d which I thought much better bestowed than on a lawyer’s letter.”
Our pudding was Simnel Cake. Hawker records that on Christmas Eve 1846 a simnel cake was sent to them from Shrewsbury. The Chairman by chance found a guide to Shrewsbury dated 1837 and this gives a nice folk etymology for the simnel cake for which the town was famous. The tale goes that a man named Simon quarrelled with his wife, Nell, as to whether a plum pudding should be boiled or baked. It was therefore first boiled and then baked in a crust, the resultant cake being called a Sim-Nell. We don’t know whether this procedure was exactly followed but we enjoyed the cake.
The cheese that we ate next came from Dorset. It may or may not have been Blue Vinney as the latter is very difficult to get depending apparently on hand skimmed milk and dirty pans – both very rare these days. Anyway, we all enjoyed it with some beautiful port – Graham’s 1960. The latter was a present from the Chairman, who told us that today’s port was vastly better than Hawker would have known when he won for his regiment the battle honour “Douro” at the taking of Oporto. By the time of his death however in 1853 it had been transformed into the deep purple red wine that we know with some 20% of alcohol and 6 to 8% sugar.
The Chairman thanked our three sponsors and also Colin Trentham who had given much help in organising the occasion. This brought to an end the Club’s first dinner mainly devoted to a sporting subject – an agreeable and interesting evening.
There were present 46 members and 7 guests as follows.
Mr R Lees
Mr H Leyton Greener
Mr H Evan Price
Mr D Good
Mr D Cooke
Mr D Lloyd
Prof. D J Hinton
Prof. R E F Smith
Dr J.B.P. Williamson
Dr B.T. Davis
Col. G.B. Grey
Dr R.F. Fletcher
Sir T. Harford
Sir M. Clapham
G. Scott Atkinson
J .M.G. Fea
J. Fane Vernon
Sir D. Capper
Dr P Cannon-Brookes
Colonel Hawker’s Cold Punch
Turtle Soup with Sherry
Mallard with Hawker’s own sauce & Baked Potato
Dorset Blue Vinney
Graham’s Port 1960