Finch, Joseph Heneage (1849–1885)

By: James I. Fenton

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Joseph Heneage Finch, English nobleman and sportsman, was born in Middlesex, England, to Heneage and Jane (Wightwick) Finch on February 21, 1849. Heneage was the sixth earl of Aylesford; Joseph, the seventh earl, was a minor but legendary figure on the West Texas frontier. He married Edith Williams, the daughter of a member of Parliament, in 1871. They had two daughters. In late 1874 Finch lavishly entertained the prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, at his estate, Packington Hall, outside London. Finch quickly became a member of the prince's inner circle of raucous intimates, infamous for their materialistic, extravagant lives.

The prince invited Finch to accompany him on a seventeen-week goodwill tour of India in 1875–76. Though he arranged the sporting events and served as his sponsor's personal hunting guide, Finch abruptly returned home in early 1876 to confront his unfaithful wife and her lover. The divorce suit that followed involved the highest members of English society and resulted in Finch's being exiled, in effect, by Queen Victoria herself.

No longer welcome in polite company in England, he dropped out of sight, but in late summer 1883 he arrived at the West Texas cattle town of Big Spring. There he bought a 2,500-acre ranch north of town and a $40,000 herd of cattle on "range delivery," or sight unseen. Because the rustic boomtown had few conveniences, in quick succession Finch bought a hotel and a bar, the former, at least, at an inflated price. He also built a meat market.

Though initially unable to gain the acceptance of the local cowboy-cattleman fraternity, the earl won them over in time by his generosity with his liquor, by his being introduced formally at roundup by a prominent cattleman, and by his pleasant personality. He spent his waking hours partying, drinking, and hunting, to the neglect of his ranch and stock. Although mysterious and remote, he became a valued and respected member of the community, for the frontiersmen did not pry into one's personal life. On January 13, 1885, after hosting a two-week party that was spoken of in awe for years, he unexpectedly died. His hard drinking had apparently caught up with him.

Finch's significance, however, does not lie in his self-destructive antics but rather in his being a classic example of a little-publicized but stock frontier character who, along with the buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, and cowboy, helped settle the frontier West-the remittance man. Few in number, perhaps never more than a few hundred, remittance men were typically wealthy Europeans, mostly Englishmen, who for various reasons were exiled to reform or to perish, to the remote regions of the world, where they regularly received money (remittances) from home. On the United States frontier, where men were expected to be rugged individualists, these outcasts were generally not admired. Finch was an exception.

James I. Fenton, "Big Spring's Amazing Tenderfoot: The Earl of Aylesford," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 55 (1979).
  • Peoples
  • English
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James I. Fenton, “Finch, Joseph Heneage,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995