Margaret Gambier , 1730-1792
Self Portrait of Lady Middleton, Nee Margaret Gambier 1730-1792, Artist, Abolitionist & Anti Slavery Campaigner
Lady Middleton, Nee Margaret Gambier

incorrectly inscribed on the old canvas (now relined)  " Rt Hon Diana /Baroness Barham" the only daughter of Lady Middleton 

oil on canvas
28 x 24in. (71.12 x 60.96 cm.)


in leaf moulded gilt & gesso frame.

In a letter probably on the 10th September  1788 Hannah More (1745 – 1833) wrote to thank her friend Lady Middleton, for the offer of either a portrait of either "the Archbishop or  of the Moralist", but encouraging her to portray a living sitter. Sir Charles Elizabeth Bouverie or Lady Middleton herself. It is possible that this Self Portrait was the outcome of Hannah Mores encouragement .



 Ryman Gallery


Margaret Middleton formerly Gambier Born about 1740 Daughter of James Gambier and Mary (Mead) Gambier, Sister of Susan (Gambier) Cornish, James Gambier and John Gambier . She married Admiral Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, son of Robert Middleton and Helen Dundas, on 21 December 1761 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Covent Garden, London, England . Middleton, RN who was then a Post Captain and commanding HMS Emerald. He met Margaret through Captain Mead who was her Uncle, who he had encountered aboard HMS Sandwich some twenty years earlier. Margaret moved to Teston in Kent, to be close to her friend Elizabeth Bouverie. In 1763, after service aboard the Adventure Charles Middleton moved to join Margaret at Teston, and for the next twelve years they farmed the land belonging to Mrs Bouverie. Margaret was mother of Diana (Middleton) Noel. She died on 10 October 1792 at Teston, Kent, England. Margaret was not only an accomplished artist she was also very well connected in society. She was considered one of the most “accomplished women of her time,” she used her connections and considerable influence to push for the first bills for abolition in British Parliament (qtd. in Rendell 45).


In 1784, her husband  Sir Charles Middleton was elected Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for Rochester, a seat he held for six years, and on 24 September 1787 he was promoted rear admiral. By 1786 he had become disillusioned with his role as Comptroller of the Navy, seeing it as beset by internal politics between the Admiralty and the Navy Board. In 1786 he prepared a letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty indicating he would "contend no more for the public," and urging the appointment of a successor who could "have more weight than I have had, and influence ministers to correct these evils."The letter was never sent, but Middleton resigned his position in 1790 and effectively retired from naval affairs.

Promotions based on seniority continued to be received, despite Middleton's retirement from active service. On 1 February 1793 he was promoted to vice admiral, and in May 1794 he was appointed to the Board of Admiralty. He became First Naval Lord in March 1795 and was promoted to full admiral on 1 June 1795. He was finally, in May 1805 (at the age of 80), appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He was also created Baron Barham, of Barham Court and Teston in the County of Kent, with a special remainder, failing male issue, to his only child, his daughter, Diana Noel, 2nd Baroness Barham, and her male heirs.

Margaret and her husband Charles Middleton played a crucial role in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. They had been influenced by a pamphlet written by Rev. James Ramsay, who served as a surgeon under Middleton aboard HMS Arundel in the West Indies, but later took holy orders and served on the Caribbean island of St Christopher (now St Kitts), where he observed first-hand the treatment of slaves. On his return in 1777, exhausted by the continuing conflict with influential planters and businessmen, Ramsay returned to Britain and briefly lived with Sir Charles and Lady Middleton at Teston. He later became vicar of Teston and rector of Nettlestead, Kent, the livings being in the gift of Middleton. Lady Middleton (1730-1792): As the daughter of an upper-class British family, her parents expected her to marry a suitor of their choosing. But Margaret defied her parents and married the man of her choice, even though it meant losing her fortune.

Ramsay's pamphlet Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies, published in 1784, especially affected Lady Middleton and no doubt her husband too. Feeling inadequate to take up the issue of the slave trade in Parliament himself, and knowing that it would be a long, hard battle, Sir Charles Middleton suggested the young Member of Parliament William Wilberforce as the one who might be persuaded to take up the cause. (Whether this was the first time that the issue had been suggested to Wilberforce is debatable). In 1787 Wilberforce was introduced to James Ramsay and Thomas Clarkson at Teston, as well as meeting the growing group of supporters of abolition, which also included Edward Eliot, Hannah More, the evangelical writer and philanthropist, and Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London.

1784: James Ramsay published his pamphlet, titled “Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies.” The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson said that it was the ‘first controversy ever entered into on the subject, during which, as is the case in most controversies, the cause of truth was spread’” (qtd. in Rendell). 1790: The first bill for abolition fails in British Parliament.1792: The House of Lords reject an Abolition Bill passed by the House of Commons.

Clarkson had first made public his desire to spend his life fighting for emancipation at Middleton's home, Barham Court, overlooking the River Medway at Teston, Kent. In order to make a case for abolishing the slave trade, Clarkson did much research over many years, gathering evidence by interviewing thousands of sailors who had been involved in the slave trade.

Barham Court was effectively used for planning the campaign by Lord and Lady Barham, with numerous meetings and strategy sessions attended by Wilberforce, Clarkson, Eliot and Porteus before presenting legislation to Parliament. While the Middletons never played a direct role in the effort to abolish the slave trade, particularly in Parliament  (finally accomplished in 1807) and slavery itself (in 1833) they both played a very important part as a behind the scenes facilitator. Their efforts were motivated by his evangelical faith.

 “For her contemporaries, Margaret was a central figure in the early abolition movement. ‘As Hannah More in 1791 told Lady Middleton in private correspondence that ‘you have the first title to every prize on the whole slave subject.’ Christian Ignatius Latrobe, who was a leading figure in the Evangelical Moravian Church who spent nearly four months at Barham Court in 1786, stated that the ‘abolition of the slave trade was . . . the work of a woman.’ For him, Lady Margaret Middleton ‘was the honored instrument of bringing the monster within range of the artillery of the executive justice of this kingdom’” (Brown).

“As Jen Wilkin says in her book In His Image, ‘The hope of the gospel in our sanctification is not simply that we would make better choices, but that we would become better people…The gospel teaches us that the grace that is ours through Christ is, by the work of the Spirit, transforming us increasingly into someone better’ (14). As we become more sanctified, we are increasingly like the perfect image bearer: Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (ESV)…We are not supposed to be glory hounds. Our lives are never about us. We are supposed to bring glory to God. He is more than worthy of our adoration, devotion, and worship. The women featured in this season of “Women of the Church” knew that they were image bearers and that they desperately needed the Gospel.”

In a way Margaret, Lady Middleton achieved nothing out of the ordinary – she was an accomplished portrait artist; she was a close friend of Dr Johnson and David Garrick; she knew an awful lot of important people; and she held dinner parties. But she was also an extremely influential figure in the abolition movement, which perhaps explains why the Moravian preacher Christian Latrobe, a family friend, once claimed that ‘the abolition of the slave trade was…. the work of a woman, even Lady Middleton.’ Later, her friend Hannah More, herself a staunch abolitionist, wrote to Margaret in 1791, saying ‘you have the first title to every prize on the whole slave subject’. Praise indeed – and that from a woman very much involved in the behind-the-scenes work to promote the abolitionist cause.

For such an influential and fiercely intelligent woman there are remarkably few details of her early life. Born Margaret Gambier some time after 1730 into a family who had come to Britain as Huguenot refugees in the 1690s, she was well-educated, clever and artistic. Her parents James Gambier and Mary Mead were evangelical Christians, who saw it as their job to improve conditions in the world around them. If there was a wrong, then it was their Christian duty to right it. The fact that Margaret was a woman, and therefore had no prospect of going to university or entering Parliament, simply strengthened her view that her skill should lie in influencing others. She could not vote, but in her middle age she certainly learned how to persuade, cajole and inspire others to vote with their conscience.

Many would argue that Margaret was the single most influential person in persuading William Wilberforce to present the abolitionist case in Parliament. Not a naturally decisive man, he suffered constantly from self-doubt and needed the encouragement from Margaret to adopt the cause as his life’s work. Wilberforce was not over-keen on allowing women to take part in the abolitionist meetings or to drum up support for petitions, writing in 1826 ‘I own I cannot relish the plan. All private exertions for such an object become their characteristic but for ladies to meet, to publish, to go from house to house stirring up petitions – these appear to me proceedings unsuited to the female character as delineated in Scripture. I fear its tendency would be to mix them all in the multiform warfare of political life.’

The fact that the influence of Margaret Middleton was so effective is revealed in one of his letters to her, when he replies to her letter urging him to present a bill before Parliament with the words: ‘I feel the great importance of the subject and I think myself unequal to the task allotted to me, but yet I will not positively decline it.’

More importantly, having committed himself to the cause, Margaret was closely involved in much of the strategic planning behind the various anti-slavery bills put before Parliament. How did this happen? Largely in conjunction with her husband, whom she had met on her uncle’s ship when he was in his mid-teens. A few years older than her, he was an impoverished servant serving under Captain Samuel Mead, who was in charge of HMS Sandwich. The fact that she fell head-over-heels for him did not endear their relationship to her parents – his prospects were far from clear, and he had yet to establish a name for himself in his chosen career i.e. the Royal Navy. She faced more parental opposition when she declined to marry a suitor of her parent’s choice, and in time her parents dis-inherited her. The couple had to wait a further twenty years, until 1761, before the 35 year old Charles Middleton was able to take a prolonged period of shore leave, and marry Margaret. She got pregnant immediately and gave birth to a daughter exactly nine months later.

In the period up until her marriage Margaret was estranged from her parents and lived with a close friend Elizabeth Bouverie, a Huguenot who owned an estate at Barham Court at Teston in Kent. Margaret and Elizabeth had been at school together, fostering a lifelong friendship. Together they had hosted parties for their artist friends and intellectuals – men like Samuel Johnson, who described Margaret as one of the wisest people he knew, and fellow artist Joshua Reynolds.

Barham Court, Teston.

So close was the connection, and so generous was Elizabeth as host, that Margaret continued to live at Barham Court after she married. Eventually, the estate was bequeathed to Charles Middleton, but in 1761 Charles was happy to spend time ashore and to devote his energies over a twelve year period to farming and managing the Barham Court estate. He also owned a London house at Hanover Square, where he could attend to his burgeoning naval career. He was a highly political animal, becoming Comptroller of the Navy in August 1778. He was awarded a baronetcy in 1781 and three years later was elected as M.P. for Rochester.

He introduced James Ramsey, who he knew from his sailing days, to the circle of friends at Barham Court. Ramsay had served as ship’s surgeon on board HMS Arundel when it was under the command of Charles Middleton. Later he gave up being a surgeon to become an Anglican vicar and worked tirelessly on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to improve working conditions for the plantation slaves. Margaret had been involved in correspondence with Ramsay over a twenty year period. Now he was appointed secretary to Sir Charles Middleton, and given the living at Teston Church and made Rector at nearby Nettlestead.

Another visitor to the group came at the invitation of Ramsay – the indefatigable Thomas Clarkson, who became curate at Teston and went on to be a founder member of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. He was to devote his whole life to criss-crossing the country giving lectures, interviewing sailors and collecting signatures to his anti-slavery petitions.

Another guest was John Newton – a former slaver who had himself been reduced to servitude and abject poverty by a disgruntled slave trader on an island off the coast of Sierra Leone. When he eventually escaped and returned to Britain he experienced an epiphany when the ship he was on board nearly sank off the coast of Ireland. Eventually recanting of his old ways, he became a firebrand of a preacher, and among other things went on to write the anti-slavery song ‘Amazing Grace’

In this way Barham Court became the place where all the threads of the anti-slavery movement came together. Friendships were forged, roles were worked out, and the leading lights went forth, imbued with determination to get the message across.

James Ramsay had seen the appalling treatment of slaves first-hand during his time in the West Indies. What alarmed him was not just the cruelty but also the apparent indifference shown by people with whom he raised the topic. But with Margaret and her husband he found sympathetic listeners – they rebuilt his confidence, convincing him that he had a duty to speak out. They helped him draft what became an important treatise on slavery, which was published in 1784 as a book-length tract called an ‘Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies’. The preface to the tract was a lengthy letter which was in fact written by Margaret, Lady Middleton. Clarkson was to say of Ramsay’s book that it was the “first controversy ever entered into on the subject, during which, as is the case in most controversies, the cause of truth was spread’. It certainly helped light the fuse under the abolitionist cause, and inspired a generation of activists to campaign against the degrading and barbaric trade in human misery.

1788 saw the publication of another paper by Ramsay entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade’. His works were extremely influential – he had seen the horrors of slavery at first hand, and he was a mainstream Anglican clergyman whose ideas could not be dismissed out of hand.

Ramsay’s success, coupled with the generosity of the Middleton’s as hosts, and Sir Charles’s increasing importance as a reformer of the Royal Navy, meant that influential visitors were eager to attend the Middleton dinner parties. In private meetings such as these the nascent abolition movement took hold. Strategies and tactics were discussed – and it was clear that a parliamentary voice was essential. Around this time the daughter of Charles and Margaret got married – and her husband had been at St John’s College Cambridge with William Wilberforce. William was introduced to the regular gatherings at Barham Court, meeting Ramsay in 1783. He loved the Barham Court atmosphere, writing later that he found Barham Court ‘in high preservation. It has none of the grand features of your northern beauties but for the charms of softness and elegance I never beheld a superior to Barham Court’.

In 1788 Charles Middleton addressed the House of Common on the evils of the slave trade, and his wife asked whether he was prepared to spearhead the abolition campaign in Parliament. He declined, saying that William Wilberforce ‘not only displayed very superior talents of great eloquence, but was a decided and powerful advocate of the cause of truth and virtue.’ In practice it was a wise choice – Middleton remained to serve as a most effective Comptroller of the Navy, introducing much needed reforms, eradicating corruption and improving the lot of the common sailor, with increased pay and better conditions. He was eventually made up to Admiral (June 1795) and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty (1805). When he retired from office he was given the title of Baron Barham of Teston. He died aged eighty-six on 17th June 1813.

And what of his wife Margaret? She died suddenly in 1792. The timing was significant because in that same year John Thornton purchased an estate in Clapham and it quickly took over from Barham Court as the centre of the abolitionist cause. The Clapham Sect carried on where the salons of Margaret, Lady Middleton had left off. But although she did not live to see her cause carried through to the Statute Book, she was hugely influential. In an era where it was not particularly fashionable to “wear your heart on your sleeve” and promote your evangelical Christian beliefs, she relentlessly used her social clout and network of contacts to further her chosen cause. Faith and philanthropy were inseparable in her mind – a combination which was to find an echo in the life of Elizabeth Fry in the decades which followed.

According to Gibbs, she was "an accomplished woman, and the friend of Samuel Johnson and Hannah More. She was one of the first to actively oppose the slave trade." Middleton was an evangelical Christian, instrumental in establishing the abolition movement. As a teenager, her independent mind was evident in her refusal to marry her father's choice of husband. She married instead naval captain Charles Middleton, who joined her at Barham Court, Teston, Kent, which became the focal point of the movement. William Wilberforce was a regular visitor, whom Margaret persuaded to take the cause to Parliament, whilst James Ramsay, vicar of Teston, published the Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784) with her support. Middleton's importance was recognised by contemporaries, though she died too soon to see her campaign to fruition.

Lady Elizabeth Bouverie: Margaret’s wealthy childhood friend, who owned Teston House (later Barham Court). Like Margaret, she was devout and considered it her Christian duty to support various philanthropies in her parish. Hannah More would write of those who lived at Teston: “Nothing can exceed the goodness of the inhabitants whose lives are spent in acts of beneficence…such an enchanted Country, such Books! Such nightingales! Such Roses! Then within doors such goodness, such Charity, such Piety! I hope it is catching and that I shall bring away some of the odour of sanctity about me” (qtd. in Brown).

Hannah More (1745-1833): After achieving literary success in London as a writer and playwright, Hannah turned her attentions to her personal faith and the welfare of others. In addition to her work as an abolitionist, Hannah sought to reform society through writing educational literature, religious tracts, and political pamphlets. At Hannah’s funeral, the officiating minister quoted from her famous novel Coelebs in Search of a Wife “to describe her guiding principle in life: 'If it be absurd to expect perfection, it is not unreasonable to expect consistency'” (Skeed).

Diana Noel Edwardes (1762-1823): The Middletons’ only daughter. Although she had eighteen children, her marriage to a non-devout, wealthy banker and politician was an unhappy one. Like her mother, Diane was an abolitionist and supported numerous philanthropies. (Carter)

Quoteworthy "There is always something we can get from spending time with like-minded women."

Bibliography : Georgiana, Lady Chatterton ed, Memorials personal and historical of Admiral Lord Gambier , GCB, London 1861. Memoirs of Georgian Lady Chatterton 1901.

Artist biography

Margaret Middleton formerly Gambier Born about 1740 Daughter of James Gambier and Mary (Mead) Gambier, Sister of Susan (Gambier) Cornish, James Gambier and John Gambier . Wife of Charles Middleton RN — married Dec 1761 . Mother of Diana (Middleton) Noel.

She married Admiral Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham, son of Robert Middleton and Helen Dundas, on 21 December 1761 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Covent Garden, London, England . She died on 10 October 1792 at Teston, Kent, England.

"The credit of Individuality will not be denied of Lady Middleton"; she numbered Sir Joshua Reynolds Dr Samuel Johnson , William Wilberforce and Hannah More among her acquaintances and she paid a pivitol role in the abolition of Slavery. In a letter probably on the 10th September  1788 Hannah Moore wrote to thank her for the offer of either a portrait of either "the Archbishop or  of the Moralist", but encouraging her to portray a living sitter. Sir Charles Elizabeth Bouverie or Lady Middleton herself. It is possible that this Self Portrait was the outcome of Hannah Mores encouragement .Some of her oil portraits of members of the family of the Earls of Gainsborough are at Exton Park. She was also known for drawing pastel portraits. ( see Neil Jeffares Dictionary of Patellists before 1800).