Benjamin Marshall, 1768 - 1835
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (60.96 x 50.90 cm.)


Benjamin Marshall painted a number of versions of this portrait, along with other versions attributed to this portrait which can be seen in the Usher Gallery, and one other portrait composition in the Hunterian and the Newarke House Museum.

Daniel Lambert, (1770–1809), the most corpulent man of his time in England, was the elder of two sons of a Daniel Lambert who had been huntsman to the earl of Stamford. He was born in Blue Boar Lane, Leicester, on 13 March 1770 and was apprenticed to Benjamin Patrick of Messrs Taylor & Co., an engraving and die-sinking firm in Birmingham; but in 1788 he returned to live with his father, who was keeper of the bridewell in Leicester. The elder Lambert resigned in 1791, and the son succeeded to his post. It was at this time that Lambert began to amass the bulk for which he was later to achieve fame. By 1793 he weighed 32 stone, despite his athletic enthusiasm for activities such as walking, swimming, and hunting. Moreover, he drank only water, and slept less than eight hours a day. The prison closed in 1805 and Lambert was granted an annuity of £50.

The next year Lambert decided to profit from his previously merely annoying corpulence. He had a special carriage constructed and went to London, where in April 1806 he began ‘receiving company’ from midday until 5 in the afternoon at 53 Piccadilly. Lambert's exhibition of himself aroused curiosity, leading to the publication of descriptions of him. ‘When sitting’ (according to one account) ‘he appears to be a stupendous mass of flesh, for his thighs are so covered by his belly that nothing but his knees are to be seen, while the flesh of his legs, which resemble pillows, projects in such a manner as to nearly bury his feet’. Lambert's limbs, however, were well proportioned; his face was ‘manly and intelligent’, and he possessed a quick wit. He was a well-known breeder of fighting cocks and was famous for his greyhounds. He revisited London in 1807, when he exhibited himself at 4 Leicester Square, before making a series of visits in the provinces. He was at Cambridge in June 1809, and proceeded to Huntingdon and Stamford, where, according to a newspaper, he ‘attained the acme of mortal hugeness’. He died at the Waggon and Horses inn, 47 High Street, Stamford, on 21 June 1809. His coffin was built on two axles and four wheels and required 112 square feet of elm wood for its construction. His body was rolled down a gradual incline from the inn to the burial-ground of St Martin's, Stamford Baron (for Lambert's epitaph see Notes and Queries, 4th ser., 11.355).

Lambert's sudden death was probably caused by the stress placed on his heart by his immense proportions. At his death he was 5 feet 11 inches in height, and weighed 52¾ stone (336 kg). His waistcoat had a girth of 102 inches (with his other clothes, it is preserved in Stamford Museum). This weight greatly exceeded that of the two men hitherto especially famed for their corpulence, John Love (d. 1793) of Weymouth (26 stone) and Edward Bright (d. 1750) of Malden (42 stone). An American contemporary, Miles Darden, outweighed Lambert at 71 stone. For a time after Lambert's death his name became a synonym for hugeness; George Meredith, in One of our Conquerors, describes London as the ‘Daniel Lambert of cities’ and Herbert Spencer, in his Study of Sociology (1873), refers to a ‘Daniel Lambert of learning’. There are several portraits of Lambert; the best is an oil by Benjamin Marshall in Leicester Museum and Art Gallery. Lambert's portrait also appeared on a large number of public house signs in London and the eastern midlands.

At the time of his death in the summer of 1809 Daniel Lambert, Leicester’s celebrated colossus weighed in at 52 stone and 11lb and was a wobbly wonder of the age. People paid good money to see the enormous man and he even achieved celebrity status because of his weight. What people of the time didn't know was that Daniel didn't enjoy being ogled for his size but all his life he swallowed his pride and took the money – it’s not like he could take an ordinary job anyway.

Daniel Lambert was known as ‘Britain’s fattest man’ – a vulgar phrase but the 19th century wasn't know for being a politically correct period of history. Visitors to Daniel were obliged to remove their hats on meeting the man and were expected to engage in polite and intellectual conversation. Interestingly, Daniel wasn't taken to be a ‘freak’ like ‘The Elephant Man’ Joseph Merrick, he was a man that mixed with the top men In society – bankers, stockbrokers, businessmen and, on one occasion, King George III himself.

But although we are painting a nice picture of Daniel’s life, not everybody was quite so polite. One visitor angrily announced that the money he paid to see the ‘big man’ was to pay for Daniel’s oversized clothes and he wanted to know what it all cost: “Sir, if I knew what part of my next coat your shilling would pay for,” Lambert replied, “I can assure you I would cut out the piece.”

As you can tell from his reply, Daniel was an intelligent man. His suit cost him £20 in the early at the turn of the 19 century – that’s around £1,400 in today’s money. The money he made was of course used to pay for his clothes – his weight was his livelihood after all – but any extra cash that the big man made funded his passion. No, it wasn't art or music, but cockfighting, breeding hunting dogs and gambling. When Daniel died he was in Stamford but what brought him there was horseracing, on what was thought to be the big man’s final tour of the country. When a man from the Stamford Mercury arrived to see Lambert, he was already in bed, fatigued with life as a massively overweight man.

“The orders he gave upon that occasion were delivered without any presentiment that they were to be his last,” reported the paper, “and with his usual cheerfulness. He was in bed, one of large dimensions, fatigued with his journey but anxious that the bills might be quickly printed in order to his seeing company next morning.” That night, Daniel Lambert drifted off to sleep, not knowing that that night would be his last.

Daniel Lambert was born in Blue Boar Lane, Leicester, in 1770. He was a healthy child and nothing would suggest he’d become the colossal man that he was. A childhood friend, the Leicester composer William Gardiner, even recalled giving Lambert piggy-back rides to and from school. The following was printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1809: “From the extraordinary bulk to which Mr Lambert attained, the reader may naturally be disposed to enquire whether his parents were persons of remarkable dimensions. This was not the case nor were any of his family inclined to corpulence excepting an uncle and an aunt on the father’s side who were both very heavy.”

As Lambert grew older he ballooned and by the time he was 23 years old he was already 32 stone. It wasn't that he was an indulgent fellow either, it was thought to be due to a hormonal imbalance. Daniel never ate more than one dish at a meal after all and he didn't even drink alcohol.

Daniel’s father was a gaoler and Lambert followed in the family business, finding work at Leicester’s Bridewell Prison in 1791. It is reputed that Daniel was a well-liked man, especially by the prisoners as he spent time with those in the cells, giving them words of comfort instead of judgement for their crimes. It was due to his size that Daniel had to leave his job – the narrow passages were too small for him to traverse. Obviously he needed a source of income and although he had an initial idea, it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

The Gentleman’s Magazine commented: “Such were the feelings of Mr Lambert that no longer than four years ago he abhorred the very idea of exhibiting himself. Though he lived exceedingly retired at Leicester, the fame of his uncommon corpulence had spread over the adjacent country to such a degree that he frequently found himself not a little incommoded by the curiosity of the people which it was impossible to repress. Finding at length that he must either submit to be a close prisoner in his own house or endure all the inconvenience without receiving the profits of an exhibition, Mr Lambert wisely strove to overcome the repugnance and determined to visit the Metropolis for that purpose. As it was impossible to procure a carriage large enough to admit him, he had a vehicle constructed expressly to carry him to London.”

Lambert toured the country and in 1809 he was in Stamford. At the Waggon and Horses, where Daniel stayed, Daniel Lambert woke up and had a shave but he began feeling short of breath and within minutes he collapsed. By 8.30am that morning, he died.

Daniel’s 52-stone body proved a problem. They couldn't carry him through the door so a wall and a window at the Waggon and Horses had to be demolished to remove his body. The undertaker had to build a custom –made coffin too - six feet four inches long, four feet four inches wide, looking almost like a square case. The Stamford Mercury described a box crafted from “112 superficial feet of elm, built upon two axle trees and four clog-wheels and upon these, the remains of the poor man were rolled into his grave in the new burial ground at the back of St Martin’s church. A regular descent was made by cutting away the earth slopingly for some distance. A large concourse attended his funeral and in the course of the day many hundred persons from the neighbourhood visited the grave.”

The landlord of the Waggon and Horses – Mr Berridge – kept two of Lambert’s suits as keepsakes for visitors to his establishment, one of which was later sold to the landlord of the pub opposite.

Well Remembered
At first, Lambert’s grave was unmarked but when the townspeople of Leicester learned of the demise of their local celebrity, his friends paid for a headstone to be erected on his grave in Stamford churchyard, with touching words etched on the stone:

In remembrance of that prodigy in nature Daniel Lambert.

A native of Leicester who was possessed of an exalted and convivial mind and, in personal greatness had no competitor.

Thomas Seccombe, rev. E. L. O'Brien DNB

Artist biography

Marshall, Benjamin (1768–1835), painter and racing journalist, was born on 8 November 1768 at Seagrave, Leicestershire, the only surviving son of eight children born to Charles Marshall and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1772). Benjamin Marshall married Mary Saunders (d. 1827) of Ratby on 12 November 1789 and is recorded as being a schoolmaster in the will of his brother-in-law, dated 1791. However, he must have already shown a talent for portraiture for in the same year, on the recommendation of William Pochin of Barkby Hall, MP for the county, he was apprenticed to the portrait painter Lemuel Francis Abbott.

It is said that Ben Marshall (as he was known) was so impressed by Sawrey Gilpin's life-size painting Death of a Fox, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1793, that he decided to change from portraiture to sporting subjects (Sporting Magazine, Aug 1835, 298). By 1795 the Marshalls were living in London at Beaumont Street, Marylebone, their elder son, Charles, having been born the previous year. Soon after their arrival Marshall met William Taplin, the author of The Gentleman's Stable Directory, and this was to be a turning point in his career. Taplin not only commissioned a portrait of himself, but also paintings of several of his horses. These were hung in Taplin's newly erected purpose-built ‘equestrian repository’ in the Edgware Road, where they would have been seen by the many fashionable and influential subscribers to his equestrian services. Marshall's portrait of Taplin was engraved for the February 1796 issue of the Sporting Magazine and in August of the same year his first horse portrait appeared, A Son of Erasmus, whose owner is recorded as a Taplin subscriber. Both these works were engraved by John Scott and the working relationship between them developed into a lifelong friendship which, as both admitted, did much to enhance their respective talents. Marshall's connection with the Sporting Magazine continued throughout his life. Sixty of his paintings were engraved as illustrations between 1796 and 1833, and from 1821 to 1833 under the name Observator he became their southern racing correspondent. The Sporting Magazine also records in 1796 that on the completion of three paintings for George III, Marshall was granted an audience of almost an hour with the king and ‘all the princesses’ (Sporting Magazine, Aug 1796, 255).

Marshall's early works owe much to both George Stubbs and Gilpin, for example Diamond with Dennis Fitzpatrick up (1799, exh. at RA, 1800; Yale U. CBA) and Grey Arab Stallion and Mare (FM Cam.). However, they already show the individuality that in the first years of the nineteenth century was to develop into his own very personal style. This change is best represented in the series of six paintings of horses commissioned by George, prince of Wales, probably executed between 1801 and 1803. These, unlike the three painted for George III, remain in the Royal Collection.

Joseph Farington recorded in his Diary of 28 March 1804 that ‘Bourgeois spoke of Marshall a horse painter as having extraordinary ability and that Gilpin had said that in managing his backgrounds he had done that which Stubbs and himself never could venture upon’. This ability to capture the vagaries of the British climate and landscape together with the depth of character in his portraits of all those connected with the sporting world raise Marshall well above the range of the average sporting artist. However, he made no attempt to be elected to the Royal Academy and exhibited there only intermittently between 1800 and 1819. The Marshalls remained at Beaumont Street until 1810, Marshall painting both sporting subjects and portraits including the celebrated boxers John Jackson, John Gully, and James Belcher (Tate collection) and, most strikingly, Marshall's Leicestershire friend Daniel Lambert, the celebrated fat man, who had exhibited himself at a shilling a visit in London during summer 1806 (exh. RA, 1807; Leicester Museums and Art Galleries).

Prompted by Ben's great love of racing, the Marshalls moved to near Newmarket in 1812. There, Marshall ‘could study the second animal in creation … in all his grandeur, beauty and variety’ (Sporting Magazine, Sept 1826, 318), adding the much quoted adage that ‘a man would give me fifty guineas for painting his horse who thought ten too much to pay for the best portrait of a wife’ (Sporting Magazine, Jan 1828, 172). His absence from London did not lessen his success and for the next seven years he produced some of the finest sporting paintings of the first quarter of the nineteenth century and arguably the best studies of jockeys ever painted. In September 1819, while he was travelling to his patron Lord Sondes at Rockingham Castle, the mail coach overturned and both Marshall's legs were broken, his head badly cut, and his back injured. He made a remarkable recovery, and the Sporting Magazine reported in October 1820 that he ‘had built himself a new painting room at Newmarket and was busily employed’ (Sporting Magazine, Oct 1820, 42). That his abilities were not impaired is shown by the striking portrait Thomas Hilton and his Hound Glory of 1822 (Royal Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury, Kent).

In 1825, aged fifty-seven, Marshall returned to London, purchasing a house in Hackney Road but keeping on his house in East Anglia. His succinct and descriptive racing journalism was still signed ‘Observator, Norfolk’. One of his reasons for returning was to promote his younger son Lambert (born in November 1809 and named after Marshall's old friend Daniel Lambert who had died suddenly in June the same year) as his successor as sporting artist and illustrator for the Sporting Magazine. Sadly, Lambert had little more than schoolboy talent: the earlier works are almost entirely by his father and there are few that do not have some assistance. It is not surprising that not a single painting attributed to him dates from after Marshall's death.

Although there appears to have been no fall in demand for Marshall's paintings or writing, the effects of his coaching accident were gradually lessening his mobility and hence output. In 1834, when the dress of the youngest of his three daughters, Elizabeth (b. 1812), caught fire, he was unable to move out of his chair to assist her and was forced to watch her burn to death. This tragedy, compounded with the death of his wife in 1827, hastened his own end and he died on 24 July 1835 at his home in London Terrace, Hackney Road, London. He was buried with his wife and daughter at St Matthew's, Bethnal Green. Marshall's effects were valued at only £200. There was no studio sale of his unsold paintings and studies, and although the Gentleman's Magazine noted the death of ‘the celebrated artist Ben Marshall’ (GM, 2nd ser., 4, 1835, 531), he was soon forgotten. He left little mark on the next generation of sporting painters, for despite the fact that John Ferneley was apprenticed to him and Abraham Cooper had lessons with him, his broad style of painting and somewhat bucolic approach to his subjects had little appeal to the Victorians and it was not until early in the twentieth century that he began again to be appreciated.

Marshall is not widely represented in British public collections, where his portraits are more numerous than his sporting subjects. For a broader view of his work one has to turn to private collections. Many of his paintings were exported to the USA in the first half of the twentieth century and are now represented in a number of galleries there, most notably at the Yale Center for British Art at New Haven, Connecticut, which holds the best portrait of the artist.

David Fuller  DNB