GAWDY, Sir John

1639 - 1709

Sir John Gawdy - A self portrait

Born on 4 October 1639, second son of Sir William Gawdy, Bart. (d. 1669) of West Harling, Norfolk, and his wife, Elizabeth (d.1653), daughter and heir of John Duffield of East Wretham in the same county, and grandson of Framlingham Gawdy. On the death of his mother, the family removed to Bury St Edmunds, where John was later placed in the workshop of Matthew Snelling, a painter and miniaturist and later became a pupil of Sir Peter Lely, intending to follow portraiture as a profession. Both John and his brother were deaf mutes, but he is recorded as a handsome and intelligent man with a great talent for painting. On the death of his elder brother, Bassingbourne, in 1669, he became heir to the family estates and, no longer needing to make it his profession, thereafter painted only for amusement. He took a prominent part in county affairs; the manuscripts of the Gawdy family give an interesting description of the social life of the period. John Evelyn, a founding member of the Royal Society who chronicled contemporary events in his diary (1640-1706), reported having dinner in September 1677 with a deaf knight, Sir John Gawdy, who communicated with his family in signs and described him as ‘a very handsome person…and a very fine painter; he was so civil and well bred, as it was not possible to discern any imperfection by him’. He married at St James', Bury St Edmunds, on 6 November 1662, Anne, daughter of Sir Robert de Grey, of Merton, Norfolk, with whom he had one son, Bassingbourne, and one daughter, Anne. Two other children died in infancy. Gawdy died in 1709. His son remained unmarried, and upon his death on 10 October 1723 the baronetcy became extinct. The first recorded will written by a deaf person was in 1672 by Baronet, Sir John Gawdy, Bart. He and his younger deaf brother, Framlingham Gaudy, tutored it is claimed by John Cressner, communicated by sign talk. Literature: Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, Vol. I, p.157/158 ill. E. Waterhouse, The Dictionary of 16th and 17th century British Painters (1988)