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Richard Pockrich

Richard Pockrich (c.1690–1759) (also spelled Pockeridge, Pockridge, Pokeridge, and Puckeridge) was born at his family's estate about 1690. Although of English descent on his father's side, his family had long been settled in north Ireland—at Derrylusk, Co. Monaghan, where they had their estate and extensive property. His father had raised and commanded an independent company during the Williamite wars (for the Irish throne), fought through "the late happy revolution," and was dangerously wounded at the siege of Athlone in 1690.1

His son Richard inherited an estate from him at age 252, worth £1000 per year according to Newburgh3, and £4000 per year according to Pilkington4. Either way, Pockrich—or 'Captain Pockrich' as he preferred to be called—seems to have entirely dissipated his inheritance on a long list of schemes:

  • In 1715 he settled in Dublin and established a brewery and distillery at Islandbridge, but the venture failed. When, later in life, he competed for the Royal Dublin Society's premium for the best barrel of ale, and lost, his contemporaries said that he "consoled himself by philosophically and courageously drinking his own brew."5
  • He sought to reclaim the bogs of Ireland by draining them and planting vineyards. Pockrich wrote pamphlets in support of his theories, and tried to interest Parliament and the public in them without success.5
  • He spent a large sum of money raising geese on several thousand acres of barren mountainous land, and declared that if properly encouraged he could supply the whole of the markets of Ireland, Great Britain and France.6 He tried, unsuccessfully, to raise geese in County Wicklow.7
  • He was something of an astrologer, and talked of building an observatory on one of the Wicklow hills for astrological purposes.6
  • He thought the drum had vast musical possibilities, and planned an orchestra of drums, twenty in number, varying in size and tone, which were to be placed in a circle, and to be played by one person standing in the center and striking the drums as required.8
  • He proposed to build unsinkable ships of metal for the maritime powers, and to supply each man-of-war with 500 tin boats which, he said, would float under any or all circumstances, and would prove invaluable in cases of shipwreck or collision. (Ships of his day were of course of entirely wooden construction. Metal hulled ships didn't appear until the 1870's.)
  • He planned to provide everyone with a pair of wings for flying. He held that the day would come—and soon, if he obtained the necessary capital—when men and women would never dream of walking; when, as Newburgh says "it might be as common for men to call for their wings as now for their boots."9
  • He ran for Parliament—twice—and failed. (Monaghan in 1745 and Dublin in 1749).10
  • He was an unsuccessful candidate for the post of Master of the Choristers of Armagh Cathedral in 1742.11
  • The project which excited Pockrich the most was his plans for blood transfusions. He declared that he could—by connecting a sick or old person with a healthy or young one (such as "strong healthy cook maid, or a kitchen wench"12) by a pipe or tube—to revive the former by improving their blood to the degree that death would be virtually unknown.13

    Pockrich was aware that the end of death (except by accidents) would have disadvantages for certain members of society such as estate lawyers, so he suggested an act of Parliament decreeing that `anyone attaining the age of 999 years shall be deemed to all Intents and Purposes dead in law'. This would enable relatives to go to court to claim their inheritance, and vicars their burial fees from legally dead 999-year-old parishoners.14

  • He also had a plan for rejuvenating wrinkled skin:
    Take common brown paper, steep it in vinegar, then apply it to the forehead, the skin about the eyes, or any other winkled part; let it lie on some time, every half hour renewing the application. The wrinkles not only disappear, but the cheeks glow with a vermeil that excels the power of paint.15
  • He published Miscellaneous Works in 1750 and a volume of poetry.16
  • He proposed a system of canals for linking the Liffey to the Shannon (in Ireland).

In 1745 Pockrich—by now a 50-year-old bachelor—married Margaret White.17 Each believed the other had money, and both were wrong. Pockrich's new wife instead ran up substantial dressmaking debts,18 and in 1748 she ran away with Theophilus Cibber, an actor. Alas, the ship which carried them to Scotland was shipwrecked, and the elopers were lost with everyone else on board.19

Pockrich himself was to pass away a year later, in 1749. He was on one of his musical tours through England, and happened to be lodging at Hamlin's Coffee House, Sweeting's Alley, near the Royal Exchange, London, when a disastrous fire broke out (O'Donahue suggests that it originated in Pockrich's room), destroying several houses and Pockrich as well.20 Pockrich had made plans for the disposition of his body after death: his executors were directed to preserve his corpse in spirits and place it in public view for the benefit of future generations. But the fire put awry even this very last of Pockrich's schemes.21

One of Pockrich's schemes actually succeeded after all—the musical glasses. Grattan22 says that he invented them in 1741.

Apparently Pockrich's musical glasses came to his aid when bailiffs arrived at his brewery to arrest him (perhaps for debtor's prison?):

Mr. Pockrich, in his brewery near Island-bridge, happening one day to be seized by bailiffs, thus addressed them: 'Gentlemen, I am your prisoner but before I do myself the honour to attend you, give me leave as an humble performer of musick, to entertain you with a tune.' 'Sir,' replies one of the bailiffs, 'we come here to execute our warrant, not to hear tunes.' 'Gentlemen,' says the Captain, 'I submit to your authority, but in the interim, while you are only taking a dram, ... Here Jack' calling to his servant, 'bring a bottle of the Ros Solis I lately distilled: I say Gentlemen, before you take a dram I shall dispatch my tune.' In the meantime he flourishes a prelude on the glasses, and afterwards displays his skill through all the pleasing turns and variations of the 'Black Joke'. The monsters, charmed with the magick of his sounds, for some time stand at gaze. At length, recovering [sic] their trance, thus accost the Captain: 'Sir, upon your parole of honour to keep the secret, we give you your liberty.' 'Tis well, playing upon the glasses is not more common: if it were, I believe our trade would find little employment.23

John Carteret Pilkington (1730–63) was a son of Mrs Laetitia Pilkington (well-known for her own memoirs), and began on the stage as a boy soprano. Subsequently he attached himself, at various times, to the Richard Pockrich, and the composer Thomas Arne. After a short stint as a naval volunteer, he made a meagre living writing verse for various magazines, following his mother into Marshalsea prison on three separate occasions. Pilkington gives us a detailed description of the adventure in his autobiography: After a terrible sea voyage, and broke, he meets Pockrich while sitting in a pub 24:

I then called for some warm punch, and before I had drank two glasses, a tall middle-aged gentleman entered, with a big wig and a sword on. .... In the course of some general chat, I mentioned my singing at the concert in Cork; upon this he eagerly said, why, can you sing? I told him I believed I could: he begged I would just hum a tune to give him an idea of my voice and manner; when I did, he cry'd, bravo! Bravo! By G-d, I'll make your fortune...

You must know, sir, that I am a gentleman who has run thro' a plentiful estate in schemes, for the publick good; ... In the more gay and happy hours of my life, I studied musick as an amusement, and am, perhaps, the best master of harmony in the known world; of this I will give you an immediate demonstration: saying so, he pulled from his sleeve sixteen large pins, and from his pocket a small hammer; with this he drove the pins into a deal table, all ranged one above the other, and some almost in as far as the heads: he then took from his side pocket two pieces of brass wire, and demanded what tune I would have: I told him the Black Joke: then lay your ear to the table, says he, hear and admire: I did so, and to my infinite amazement, he played it with all its variations, so as to sound somewhat like a dulcimer.

Encouraged by the applauses I gave to this uncommon instrument, he took a parcel of drinking glasses, and tuned them, by putting different quantities of water in each: upon these he layed a number of the newest tunes in the most elegant taste, giving me delight and satisfaction.... said he, I have at home glasses as large as bells of my own invention, that have a sound as loud as an organ, but more delicate and pleasing to the ear: now, Sir, as we are both gentlemen, and both possessed of excellence in the science of musick, if we unite together, we must make a fortune...

Pockrich called his instrument the Angelic Organ.25 They proceed to Pockrich's house; on the strength of their 'future earnings' Pockrich 'borrows' from Pilkington the fare for the coach. Pockrich goes on to explain that his current lodgings are the only ones he could find where his extensive musical activities wouldn't disturb the neighbors; then Pockrich strikes a light ...

... which revealed to my eyes the most litter'd dirty hole I had ever yet seen: the furniture consisted of an old taudry bed, one rush bottom chair, a frame with a number of large glasses ranged on it, and the case of a violincello. I believe the Captain observed the dismay in my looks, and in order to comfort me, said, that he had made the people take all superfluous things out of the room, and that he never suffered a servant to clean it, lest their damn'd mops and brushes would break his glasses.

He then set down and played Handel's water musick26, and several other pieces, on the glasses, that indeed made some amends for the wretched appearance of every thing about him.27

With no other options, Pilkington decides to continue with Pockrich's plan. They rehearse and plan their program, and finally the big day arrives:

The songs I was to sing at my first appearance were fixed upon, and every thing got in readiness for the important event; when I hoped my patience and long suffering would meet some reward, for by this time two months had sneaked away: at length the hour arrived. The Taylors hall was finely illuminated, the newspapers filled with encomiums on the angelick organ, every publick corner was covered with large bills, and tickets dispersed amongst the nobility. About three hours before the concert was to begin, the Captain went to arrange and tune his glasses, when unfortunately stepping out for some water, a large unmannerly sow entered, and, oh! Guess the rest!—threw down the whole machine, and covered the ground with glittering fragments; destroying not only the hopes of the publick, but ours of a present and future subsistence. When the Captain returned, and found his lofty castle in the air reduced to an heap of rubbish, he looked just like Mark Anthony, when he beholds the body of Julius Caesar on the earth, and says:
Oh! Mighty Caesar, dost thou lie so low?
He, however, supported the catastrophe with a dignity and heroism peculiar to great minds; and without staying for the company, desired the door-keepers would inform the world of the melancholy event, returning himself once more to his gloomy abode.28

After this Pilkington and Pockrich part company. Pilkington's autobiography gives scant further mention to Pockrich—a few chance encounters in the future. But according to Flood in his History of Irish Music29 "[Pockrich] gave performances through England and Ireland on the glasses, having as vocalist John Carteret Pilkington."

At the time of Pilkington's narrative Pockrich is still playing his glasses by striking them with sticks:

Colonel Newburgh ... was endeavoring to give Baron Dawson, a gentleman of true wit and humour, an idea of Pockridge's instrument, by telling he runs two sticks along the glasses, and by that means played distinct tunes; but, says the Colonel, except you were to see and hear it, you can have but little concept of its excellence; oh! But I have, said the Baron, 'tis like a blackguard boy, trailing a stick along iron rails.30

Pockrich did switch to the 'wet-finger-around-the-wine-glass' at some point31, although it is unclear when that occurred.

In October 1742 Pockrich is listed as giving a performance in Dublin on the 'glasses' along with tumblers and other musicians in the Smock Alley Company32. And we find an advertisement in 'Faulkner's Journal', Dublin, for April 26–30, 1743:

For the Benefit of the Inventor at the Theatre in Smock Alley, on Tuesday the 3rd of May, will be a Musical Performanc upon Glasses with other Instruments accompanied with Voices. To which will be added a Comedy called the 'Old Batchelor'. This being the first time that Glasses were ever introduced in Concert, it is hoped that Curiosity will induce the Town to see what has so much surprised all those who have heard them even at the greatest disadvantage. All Gentlemen that love a cheerful Glass will undoubtedly be zealous in the Affair.—The following Pieces of Musick will be performed that Night, viz. one of Vilvaldi's Seasons called The Spring, 'The Early Horn', to be sung by Mr. Baildon; Hark! ye little warbling choirs, by Mrs. Storer, Ellin a Roon, Jack Latten and the Black Joke with additional Variations, some of which cannot be executed on any Instrument but the Glasses. The principal Parts in all the above Musick, will be played on the Glasses.33

The notice doesn't name Pockrich, but he seems the likely performer. And we have seen that 'The Black Joke with additional Variations', mentioned in the notice, was a standard piece in his repertoire.

Pockrich performed March 1st, 1744, at Mr. Hunt's Great Auction Room in Stafford-street, and apparently still accident-prone, had this to say about the performance in an advertisement:

When the Glasses were first introduced in Publick, an accident happened which prevented the Inventor from shewing that instrument to any advantage; some imputed it to his taking a Glass too much; but the real cause of it was owing to the hurry in removing them, which untuned and disconcerted that instrument.34

On March 15th, 1744, he gave a most successful recital at the Taylors' Hall, Back-lane, being a repeat of his performance a fortnight previously. One of the novelties was a song, "Tell me, lovely Shepherd," sung by Miss Young, "who never performed before in Publick."35

We leave the good Captain with Newburgh's poetic elegy:

Mourn him, ye bogs, in tears discharge your tides,
No more shall Pockrich tap your spongy hides;
Ye geese, ye ganders, cackle doleful lays,
No more his mountain tops your flocks shall graze;
Be silent, dumb, ye late harmonious glasses—
Free from surprise, serenely sleep, ye lasses.
Let drums, unbraced, in hollow murmurs tell
How he that waked their thunders silent fell.
Let tempests swell the surge, no more his boat,
Secure from wreck, shall on the billows float;
No more, ye sons of Nappy, shall his beer
Or nut-brown ale your dropping spirits cheer,
To his own castles, built sublime in air,
Quitting his geese and bogs and glassy care,
With blood infused, and, like a meteor bright,
On his own pinions, Pock has winged his flight.36

1 O'Donahue (1899), 13–14

2 Newmann (1993)

3 Newburgh (1759)

4 Pilkington (1760/1762)

5 O'Donahue (1899), 14

6 O'Donahue (1899), 15

7 Donaldson (2004), see `Pockrich, Richard', p. 519

8 O'Donahue (1899), 16

9Quoted in O'Donahue (1899), 17

10 Flood (1927)

11 Flood (1927)

12 Pilkington (1760/1762), 63

13 O'Donahue (1899), 20

14 Donaldson (2004), see `Pockrich, Richard', p. 520

15 O'Donahue (1899), 22

16 Newmann (1993)

17widow of Francis White, Esq.

18 Donaldson (2004), 521

19 O'Donahue (1899), 18

20 O'Donahue (1899), 23

21 Donaldson (2004), 521

22 Grattan (1914),

23 Newburgh (1759),

24 Pilkington (1760/1762), 57ff

25 Pilkington (1760/1762), 59

26premiered in 1717, so this narrative must take place after that date

27 Pilkington (1760/1762), 60

28 Pilkington (1760/1762) 66ff

29 Flood (1927)

30 Pilkington (1760/1762), 65

31according to Benjamin Franklin. See his letter to Beccaria , July 1762

32 Greene (1993), 322

33Quoted from King (1956), 64–65

34 Flood (1927)

35 Flood (1927)

36 Newburgh (1759), quoted from O'Donahue (1899), 24