In 1764 Captain Stair Douglas of
the Royal Navy mentioned to the Duchess of Queensbury
that he had in his possession a smart and intelligent
Negro boy, aged about 10, whom he had bought in St.Kitts.
Would the Duchess like him as a present? Struck by the
African's good looks as well as his intelligence, the
Duchess accepted him. She named him Soubise, sent him
to school, dressed him well and generally made a pet of
him as was the fashion of the day. Apparently he attended
Eton and was said to be a good violinist, to have a good
singing voice and oratorical skills.
The grateful and affectionate youth
soon won the Duke's favour as well, who sent him to Domenico
Angelo's Academy, the foremost school for learning fencing
and the niceties of riding. The Duchess and her friends
frequently attended the visitors' gallery at the Academy
to watch her favourite perform his equestrian exercises.
The Duchess even managed to persuade Angelo to take Soubise
as his articled assistant to teach riding and fencing.
Though Angelo feared that Soubise's 'colour and humble
birth might have made him repulsive to his high born pupils'
he acquiesced to the Duchess' wishes. Soubise's engaging
manner and good nature soon proved Angelo's fears unfounded,
and he was a frequent guest at the all-male exclusive
dinner parties held at the Academy. He was also a regular
guest at other sporting clubs for gentlemen, where he
sang songs of his own composition.
As he grew up, Soubise's good looks, pleasant manners
and undoubted gifts for gallantry won him the favour of
the Duchess' maids, as well, it was rumoured, of the Duchess
and numbers of other ladies. However, all this attention
apparently spoilt the young man, who began to assume princely
airs, becoming one of the most conspicuous -and seemingly
over-scented - fops around town. Angelo dismissed him
from his most congenial job at the Academy. Though the
Duchess repeatedly discharged his large debts, he slowly
also began to lose her favour.
The final straw was the attempted rape of one of the Duchess'
maids, who insisted on prosecuting him. Two days before
her death on 17 July 1777, he was sent off to India to
earn his living as an accomplished master of riding and
fencing. Ignatius Sancho wrote to friends enlisting their
aid for the exile, but warning them not to lend Soubise
any money. He established an academy in Calcutta, and,
through connections, was able to obtain numerous patrons
and pupils and even a contract to break horses for the
government. Soubise died on 25 August 1798. Nothing is
known of his life in India.