The Diogenes Club

Overview

The Diogenes Club was an exclusive Gentlemen's Club based in London, England, and prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Behind its innocuous facade, and unknown to the general public, it was a gathering place for amateur sleuths and spies who worked for the defence of the British Empire.

History

The Diogenes Club began in the early 19th century as a circle of retired British naval officers and gentlemen who met informally at the London home of Vice Admiral Sir Alfred Cutler. The men were united by a patriotic love of their country, but originally they merely met, exchanged news, and debated the fate of the Empire, with no aspiration to anything more. They ironically adopted the philosopher Diogenes as their "patron" and began calling their meetings "the Diogenes Club". In the early years the group never numbered more than a dozen men.

Cutler died in 1829 and bequeathed his London home to the Diogenes Club in perpetuity, with the proviso that they "remained true to their beliefs and stood steadfast in the defence of the Empire". From that point on, the members of the Diogenes Club began to take an active, though clandestine, role in the politics of Victorian Britain. Individually, the six gentlemen who were members at the time each wielded some small influence. Working together and pooling their knowledge and resources, they began making significant contributions to British Imperial expansion.

The early Victorian era saw a great growth in the popularity of gentlemen's clubs, and the group realised that if they became a "club" in fact as well as in name they could steadily grow a cadre of like-minded individuals. Cutler's house was located on St. James's street, the heart of "clubland", and was large enough to house the necessary functions of a gentleman's club. So the Diogenes Club officially opened its doors to membership in 1849.

In time, the government became aware of the Club's activities and their contribution to the defence of the British Empire was unofficially acknowledged and welcomed. In effect, the Club became an unofficial, self-funded, intelligence arm of the Empire, a role which it continued through the late Victorian era and into the 20th century.

Organisation

The Diogenes Club was organised along the typical lines of a Victorian gentleman's club. Members paid an annual subscription which allowed them to visit the Georgian mansion in St. James's and use the facilities including the library and sitting rooms. They could eat in the dining room and visiting members from out of town could make use of the bedrooms, all while being catered to by the Club's well-trained and discrete servants.

Club members were supposed to be "sociable, of good character and background". Typically they would be a mix of members of titled, landed families and rising figures of the business, imperial, and political communities. Though many London clubs were exclusively upper class, the Diogenes Club would admit upper-middle-class professionals such as doctors, lawyers, diplomats, and military officers, as these men often had specific knowledge and skills that were essential to the Club's clandestine business. The membership remained exclusively male, however.

The Club was managed by an elected committee. The committee chairman was the nominal "head" of the Club, though in practice all decisions were made by majority committee vote.

The membership election process followed the typical pattern for gentlemen's clubs, a rigorous process designed to ensure that nobody socially undesirable was admitted to an exclusive club. In the case of the Diogenes Club, it guaranteed that everybody admitted to the club was useful, reliable, and ideologically compatible with the Club's mission.

Members nominated candidates, vouched for their eligibility, and added their names to a waiting list. Each candidate’s name, family, and profession was recorded in a book which was on display in the Club before an election by ballot of all members took place. Candidates could often wait months before their election, as the Club preferred to keep its membership small and would only admit a small number of new members each year. Membership elections required a positive vote (or abstention) from all members, and a single negative vote ("blackball") would block the candidate's membership.

Notable Members

The Club employed numerous servants over the years of its operation, all of them discretely vetted before employment to ensure that they could be trusted with secrets and would pose no risk to the Club's activities. In a small number of cases, servants were specifically recruited for the unique talents they possessed and were directly involved in Club activities above and beyond simply acting as waiters and valets.

The following servants are especially noted for their valuable work.