The Cocoa-Tree Club
This noted Club was the Tory Chocolate-house of Queen Anne's reign; the Whig Coffee-house was the St. James's, lower down, in the same street, St. James's. The party distinction is thus defined:—"A Whig will no more go to the Cocoa-tree or Ozinda's, than a Tory will be seen at the coffee-house of St. James's."
The Cocoa-tree Chocolate-house was converted into a Club, probably before 1746, when the house was the head-quarters of the Jacobite party in Parliament. It is thus referred to in the above year by Horace Walpole, in a letter to George Montagu:—"The Duke has given Brigadier Mordaunt the Pretender's coach, on condition he rode up to London in it. 'That I will, Sir,' said he; 'and drive till it stops of its own accord at the Cocoa-tree.'"
Gibbon was a member of this Club, and has left this entry, in his journal of 1762:—"Nov. 24. I dined at the Cocoa Tree with * * *, who, under a great appearance of oddity, conceals more real humour, good sense, and even knowledge, than half those who laugh at him. We went thence to the play (The Spanish Friar); and when it was over, retired to the Cocoa-tree. That respectable body, of which I have the honour of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty, perhaps, of the first men in the kingdom in point of fashion and fortune supping at little tables covered with a napkin, in the middle of a coffee-room, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch. At present we are full of King's counsellors and lords of the bedchamber; who, having jumped into the ministry, make a very singular medley of their old principles and language with their modern ones." At this time, bribery was in full swing: it is alleged that the lowest bribe for a vote upon the Peace of Fontainebleau, was a bank-note of £200; and that the Secretary of the Treasury afterwards acknowledged £25,000 to have been thus expended in a single morning. And in 1765, on the debate in the Commons on the Regency Bill, we read in the Chatham Correspondence: "The Cocoa-tree have thus capacitated Her Royal Highness (the Princess of Wales) to be Regent: it is well they have not given us a King, if they have not; for many think, Lord Bute is King."
Although the Cocoa-tree, in its conversion from a Chocolate-house to a Club, may have bettered its reputation in some respects, high play, if not foul play, was known there twenty years later. Walpole, writing to Mann, Feb. 6, 1780, says: "Within this week there has been a cast at hazard at the Cocoa-tree, (in St. James's Street,) the difference of which amounted to one hundred and fourscore thousand pounds. Mr. O'Birne, an Irish gamester, had won one hundred thousand pounds of a young Mr. Harvey of Chigwell, just started into an estate by his elder brother's death. O'Birne said, "You can never pay me." "I can," said the youth: "my estate will sell for the debt." "No," said O.; "I will win ten thousand—you shall throw for the odd ninety." They did, and Harvey won."
The Cocoa-tree was one of the Clubs to which Lord Byron belonged.
Club Life of London Vol. I