Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gardiner, Richard (1723-1781)

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GARDINER, RICHARD (1723–1781), called Dick Merryfellow, author, born at Saffron Walden, Essex, 4 Oct. 1723, was the son of the Rev. John Gardiner, LL.D., rector of Great Massingham, Norfolk, by a daughter of John Turner of Saffron Walden. After being educated at Eton and St. Catharine's Hall, Cambridge, where he took no degree, he went abroad for some years, and while returning to England was taken prisoner at sea by a French privateer and imprisoned at Dunkerque. On his release in 1748 he went to Norwich, and was persuaded by his relations to enter holy orders. He is said to have been a successful preacher, but in 1751, while still a deacon, he retired from the church. His unsuccessful suit to a young lady led him to publish in 1754 'The History of Pudica, a Lady of Norfolk, with an account of her five lovers, by William Honeycomb.' One of the lovers, named 'Dick Merryfellow,' was intended for himself. The satire is dull and acrimonious. Gardiner next took up the profession of arms, and in March 1757 he was promoted from being a lieutenant in the 12th regiment of foot to the command of a company of marines. In 1759 he commanded a detachment of marines in an engagement at St. Pierre, Martinique, and again at the siege of Guadeloupe on board the Rippon. On his return to England in the same year he published an unembellished diary of the experiences of the fleet, called 'An Account of the Expedition to the West Indies against Martinico, Guadeloupe, and other the Leeward Islands subject to the French King.' The work was originally dedicated to Lord Temple, who had procured Gardiner his commission. A third edition, which was published in 1762, together with a French translation, both beautifully printed by Baskerville, is dedicated to the queen. At the outbreak of the Spanish war in 1762 Gardiner raised a company of foot at his own expense, but was not permitted to sell his company of marines, which, after the siege of Paris, was reduced. Its commander being put upon half-pay, Gardiner retired to Swaffham, and amused himself by writing a large number of election squibs in verse and prose which, though poor even of their kind, were extensively circulated and well paid for. In 1773 Gardiner again obtained a commission, and was appointed captain in the 16th light dragoons with brevet rank of major; but he saw no more service, and shortly afterwards retired on half-pay. He then settled at Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk, and finding his means insufficient for the sup- port of his growing family he persuaded T. W. Coke [q. v.] to make him 'auditor-general' of his Holkham estates, with a salary of 600l. a year. The place was intended as a sinecure, but Gardiner recklessly altered existing arrangements, increased the rents, drove out tenants, and even endeavoured to choose guests and order dinner for his employer. In February 1777 he was dismissed with a gratuity of 200l. after a six months' tenure of his office. Early in 1778 he published an absurd 'Letter to Sir Harbord Harbord, with observations on Thomas William Coke,' assuming that Harbord had procured his dismissal. The insinuation was denied by Coke in the Norfolk newspapers, and similar publicity having been refused to Gardiner's rejoinder, he produced a 'Letter to T. W. Coke, Esq., of Holkham,' a long, tangled, and bitter tirade. He again took up the quarrel in the following year, when Harbord and Coke were candidates at parliamentary elections for Norwich and Norfolk county respectively; but each of his enemies was returned at the head of the poll. He died on 14 Sept. 1781, and was buried in Ingoldisthorpe Church. At the time of his death he was preparing an elaborate 'Naval Register from 1739 to 1781,' which was never completed. A large number of his compositions were printed, chiefly consisting of prologues and epilogues to plays, elegies and epitaphs on friends and political skits; he was also mainly responsible for an ephemeral 'Lynn Magazine,' and prepared some articles for a projected county history of Norfolk. None of his work possesses any lasting merit. He married Ann, only daughter of Benjamin Bromhead of Thirlby, near Lincoln, and left a son, who became an officer in the army, and two daughters.

[Memoir of the Life and Writings (Prose and Verse) of K-ch-d G-rd-n-r, Esq.. alias Dick Merry-fellow of Serious and Facetious Memory.]

A. V.