Walter and Son: a High Street Fixture

Daniel Walter was born on 7 January 1831 in Marden, the second son of Charles, a shoemaker & his wife Mary. On 1848, in Marden, he married Elizabeth Leeds, a famer’s daughter. Although both still in their teens, they moved to Hythe and started a business making and selling shoes and boots. Daniel at first bought, or leased, a small shop at 13 (now 30) High Street, then moved a few yards east to no. 15 (now 34).

Every pair of shoes was made on the premises, and they were of all types. In 1856, Daniel designed the ‘Hythe Shingle Boot’ for the newly-created School of Musketry. It was a sort of blucher boot, suitable for walking on the shingle at Hythe Ranges, where target practice took place on the beach (and still does). Adverts described it as ‘especially adapted for Rifle Practice, Sporting or the Country’. This was a clever move. It gave him access to the School – in 1856 they even gave him a pass – and to the officers and their ladies. Much bespoke work followed as did work from the officers at Shorncliffe camp. Women outworkers embroidered the delicate ballroom slippers and fancy ankle boots.

For more robust work, Daniel had a workshop in the yard at the back of the shop but one night in November 1865, fire broke out and quickly spread. Hythe Fire Brigade attended, but as often happened, there was an inadequate supply of water and Daniel lost his workshop, which was of wood with a corrugated iron and felt roof, and all its contents. He then discovered that the building and stock, valued at £100, were not insured, only the house and shop and their contents being covered by his policy. However, the directors of the Kent Fire Office generously allowed him £40 compensation.

He somehow recovered and in 1874, he bought no. 41 (now 88) High Street, a handsome double-fronted shop – or it was when he had redesigned it.

He wanted his new shop to stand out from the ordinary. He went up to London’s West End to see how they did things there, and decided on two fully-glazed full length windows either side of a glazed door, instead of the more usual small panes of glass from waist height and a wooden door. People thought he was mad and that the glass would soon be smashed, but it was not, and the deep windows show-cased his goods beautifully. Not only that, but the shop looked fashionable, a little bit of the West End in quiet Hythe.

The salon on the first floor of Daniel’s Hythe shop in the early 1900s

Daniel’s family grew even more rapidly than his business. He and Elizabeth had five children before her death; he then married Anne Leaver of Lydd, a greengrocer’s daughter, by whom he had another ten children before she, too, died in 1891. Three years later he married Susan Mary Challice, who presented him with a daughter in 1895. That is three wives and sixteen children.

Walter (far right back row) & his extensive family. He is standing next to his six sons

Amidst all this business and family activity, he found time for other things, He was the first Bandmaster of the Hythe Town Band and ensured that his sons played musical instruments, too; he was a member of the Cinque Ports Volunteers based at Fort Twiss; he was elected to the Town Council in 1889 representing the Hythe Ratepayers Association and was a member of the Liberal Party.

In religion, he was a Congregationalist. They had worshipped since 1817 at the Ebenezer Chapel in what is now Chapel Street, just behind Daniel’s first two shops. In 1867, the number of worshippers was growing and larger premises were needed. According to his obituary in the Folkestone Herald’ Daniel bought a piece of land in the High Street known as Old Walnut Tree Yard, then proceeded to raise the money from the members of the congregation to pay him back and also to build a splendid new church which opened the following year. Records do not confirm this, and the conveyance of the land is shown as being ‘to Joshua Wilson and others’ (1). However, Daniel was a key player in the church, which he joined in 1850, soon after his arrival in Hythe and acted as trustee, deacon and pew rent collector.   His second wife, Anne, joined immediately after their marriage in 1870 and was active herself.

One of Daniel’s sons by his second wife, Harry, joined his father in the business, which became ‘Walter & Son’ and he took over the reins when his father retired from both business and the Town Council in 1904.  One of his first actions was to have electric lighting installed in the shop. He had already started to buy in ready-made shoes from K, Lotus and Saxone, among others.


                                                                             A 1912 advertisement for Walter & Son

In 1919, he opened a shop at 29 Sandgate Road, Folkestone ideally placed for clients of the big hotels and he refurbished the Hythe shop in 1928. Harry’s son Gerald, born in 1911, joined him in the business the following year and they opened a second Folkestone outlet. Controversially, even at the time, the shops started to use x-ray machines on children’s feet for fitting shoes.

Daniel, who had retired to Coda Villa in Seabrook Road with Susan and his little daughter Dorothy,  did not die until 1930, a few days after his ninety-ninth birthday, with his wife and daughters Dorothy and Edith at his bedside.  He had been ill for only a few weeks before this. Four of his six sons attended his funeral (Harry was convalescent in France and Charles had died), but of his ten daughters, only the youngest, Dorothy, was there and of the grand-children, none except Harry’s son Gerald.  It does not suggest a close-knit family.  The funeral service was held in Congregational church and then the Hythe Town Band led the cortege to St Leonard’s church where Daniel was buried near the northern boundary.

The shoe business carried on. Harry opened  another shop in Tunbridge Wells in 1940. He died in 1943 and after the war, Gerald expanded the business further, into Dover, Deal and Ashford. The Ashford shop was officially opened by the stage and screen actress Victoria Hopper who was married to Gerald’s brother Peter.

Victoria Hooper at the opening of the Ashford shop

Another shop in Tenterden followed in 1964.

Gerald, like his grandfather Daniel, was civic-minded. He served as town mayor, founded Hythe Rotary Club (which still flourishes today) and was closely connected with Hythe’s biennial Venetian Fete. There is still a memorial cup presented in his name for the best floral float.

In 1973, the Hythe shop was graced by a visit from Marjorie Wallace, then ‘Miss World’ (though not for much longer: it was discovered that she was a single parent and she was de-throned). The Chamber of Commerce had arranged for her to visit the town.

 

More glamour at Walter & son: Marjorie Wallace being measured for shoes

A 1978 venture into Rochester was short-lived and was soon followed by closures at Ashford, Tunbridge Wells and Dover. Tenterden and Folkestone followed suit and the last to go were the shops in Deal and Hythe in 2010. Gerald died in 1998.

Kent Archives:  N/F1998/4/1/1

Sources: Folkestone and District Local History Society Newsletter no. 14 Spring 2003; Iris Pearce; Alethea Lester; Lynda Ryan; Alan Joyce; Mike Umbers; David Paton; Tim Lawrence, Peter White; Dorene McCormack

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Sinners and (Latter Day) Saints – Part Two


                                                           James and Mary Warby in middle life

 

James Warby was born on November 15 1822 in Hythe, the son of James and Mary Warby, but died a long way away, having almost circumnavigated the globe.

His older brother William was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1835 and four years later, his father took the decision that the whole family would travel across the world and join him – though they ended up in New South Wales and William joined them there when he got his freedom.

On 10 March 1846 James junior married nineteen-year-old Mary Blanch, the child of free immigrants and six months later, their first child was born, the eldest of no fewer than eighteen, including two sets of twins. Sadly, several died as infants and only nine lived long enough to be married, but even that was an achievement in the circumstances in which they lived.

One night in 1852,  when walking home from work, James stopped to listen to two street-corner preachers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).  He was impressed by what they had to say and attended a meeting, together with Mary Ann and his children, that same evening.  At further meetings they learned about the Mormon settlements in Utah and decided that there, not Australia, was where they belonged.

They were both baptised into the church, by total immersion in the Williams River, in 1853.

An early Mormon baptism

They left their home, and went to stay with a brother  of Mary Ann’s until they set sail from Sydney on 22 March 1854, on the ship Julia Ann together with seventy-odd other converts.  That was the last the family in Australia heard of them. It may be that James wanted to disassociate himself  from the family scandal created by his brother and sister (see Sinners and Latter Day Saints part one). They landed at San Pedro, California in June and settled at first in San Bernardino. There was a large Mormon community already there, sent down from Salt Lake City in 1851 to establish a colony on the Pacific coast, as an out-fitting post for the church, and as a Pacific port where converts might be landed. Formerly they had disembarked at New York. The overland journey to Utah could be shortened by two-thirds.

San Bernardino in 1865

In autumn 1856 or spring 1857 James and his family made the long trip by wagon to Utah, setting up home with three other families at a place called – or named by them – Beaver (it later became famous as the birthplace of Robert Leroy Parker aka Butch Cassidy).

The countryside near Beaver. 

The men started to clear land and  fenced in  twelve acres.  They made roads to get into the canyons where there was abundant timber to build their houses, log cabins with mud roofs and hard-packed dirt floors.

Everything had to be made from scratch – furniture, wagon wheels, scythe handles, churns,  cradles, buckets and washboards. In the early days there was no metal available, so spoons, butter paddles, bowls, and wash basins were all wooden, too. Mattresses were filled with straw. The  women carded wool, spun yarn and wove it into cloth. They cooked what they could grow or hunt. There was no organised education for the children and none of the Warby children ever attended school.

More migrants arrived and gradually life got easier. There was a proper meeting house by 1868 and in  1872 a woollen mill was built and women could now buy fabric off he bolt. James became the proprietor of a sawmill and a lime kiln.  The children grew up and married and had children of their own. Then, extraordinarily, in 1896, most of the clan, including James and Mary (now 74 and 69 respectively) took seven wagons, a hundred  head of cattle, seventy horses and two mules and travelled four hundred miles to relocate in Lucerne Valley (later renamed Manila)  and start the settlement process all over again.

James and Mary in later life

James died in 1906 and Mary in 1915. They had fifty -five grandchildren  and a hundred and sixty-eight great-grandchildren. Knowing about family was (and is) important to Mormons. They believe that the family is the basic unit of earthly and heavenly existence. Those members who have died without being baptised into the church can be baptised after death, to ensure that the family is intact in heaven. It was therefore critical to know exactly who one’s family members were. It was apparently for this reason that James told his children about the illicit union between his brother and sister, William and Celia Warby, in Australia.

The grave of James and Mary (www.findagrave.com)

 

 

 

Sinners and (Latter Day) Saints – Part One

James Warby, a soldier with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, who had fought in the Peninsular Wars at the Battle of Nivelle in 1813, hung up his boots in Hythe, married Mary Woods and raised a family. All was well until, in April 1834,his eldest son, eighteen-year-old William, was found guilty of stealing a half-sovereign from Susanna and Andrew Lawler.  He had gone to the house to sell potatoes and noticed where the cash was kept.  He contrived to loiter after the sale. A small child was present whom he sent off on an errand, and once alone helped himself to the money, which he changed at a butcher’s in Sandgate. He was sentenced to six months in the town gaol.

He spent his sentence alongside Alexander Swain, who had received six months for burglary. By February the next year, they were both back in the same gaol, charged with stealing a pet rabbit from a local solicitor. Swain, probably fearing a stiff sentence, persuaded a seventeen-year-old girl who was visiting her brother in the gaol to give him her clothes. He walked out of the gaol dressed in a blue gaberdine frock and a hat. Of course, he was soon missed and only got as far as Rye before being apprehended the next day.

In court, both men were sentenced to seven years’ transportation. They were removed to the prison hulk Fortitude at Chatham. William, who was reported in gaol to have been bad-tempered and violent was apparently sobered by the hulk experience and was described as ‘orderly’. The men were transported on the ss Norfolk,  arriving in van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) on 28 Aug 1835. Once there, Alexander Swaine disappears from the records and probably died either during the voyage or shortly after arrival.

Van Diemen’s Land was known as a convict hell. Work was hard and punishments harsh. William received fifty lashes in September 1837 for disobeying orders.

 

A sketch of a Van Diemen’s Land chain gang

 

Henceforward, he kept out of trouble and got his Certificate of Freedom in 1842. The next year he sailed for Sydney, not just to get away from the place of his servitude, but to rejoin his family.

James Warby had brought his wife and family to New South Wales in 1839. It was not in fact, unusual for convict’s families to do this. Convicts rarely returned home and often their letters made Australia seem more attractive than England at a time of economic depression.  James must have decided that a reunion on the other side of the world was the best course of action, though he could not possibly have known how it would turn out. With him, apart from his wife Mary, were his other sons, John (19), James (17), Thomas (8) and daughters Mary Ann (15) and Celia (12). They arrived at Port Jackson as Bounty Immigrants then moved on to Morpeth and finally Maitland.

All the children married.

Mary Ann married first, just before her seventeenth birthday. She and her husband had fourteen children. Celia was next. She married John Chivington, a former convict,  on 13 Feb 1845. They had four children, but only two survived to adulthood.  Then James married Mary Ann Blanch in 1846 in Morpeth; John married in 1855 and had seven children and finally Thomas married in 1856 in Maitland and had eleven children.

On 25 February 1851, the husband of William’s younger sister, Celia, died.  William, now in New South Wales, moved in with her.  In 1853, their first child together was born and thereafter William and Celia lived together as husband and wife until their deaths, days apart, in September 1900.

We cannot know whether, from Celia’s perspective, this relationship was consensual or abusive. Whichever was the case, it brought terrible suffering to their children. They had seven, four of whom had  catastrophic disabilities: Noah, who lived to be forty as an ‘invalid’; Samuel, who died aged twenty-six, ‘a cripple from birth’;  Thomas, who lived only a few months and died of ‘inanition’, an inability to feed or drink; John, who died aged forty-four in an ‘asylum for imbeciles’.  It could be said that William’s real crimes were committed not in Hythe but in Australia.

To be continued….

Details of William’s life after leaving Van Diemen’s Land are taken from the Warby family’s site:

http://www.thetreeofus.net/3/182026.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hole Family – Part 3

William Hole was born in Hythe in 1793, the son of John and Elizabeth Hole and was the younger brother of James Hole, who is buried in St Leonard’s churchyard (see The Hole Family Part One). His father was a fisherman. Like his brother, he was intended for a life of shop-keeping and was apprenticed to a Hythe trader. He then went to London to establish his own business but failed several times and was declared bankrupt on 30 April 1827, when his wax and tallow chandlery in the Edgware Road was unsuccessful. After that, he kept an Italian warehouse in the same street. In 1822, he had married Harriet Whittaker.

A fellow-townsman lived nearby. He was Thomas Knowles, eleven years older than William and was the son of George and Ursula Knowles of Hythe. His father worked in the brewery. When young, Knowles was a footboy and afterwards a footman in London. He was declared insolvent in 1819 and again in 1825. In April 1829, he was admitted to a debtors’ prison in Whitecross Street as he owed one George Vincent £40. He was discharged as insolvent in August but did not leave prison until November. He then, with tears in his eyes, asked for a loan to redeem a suit of clothes from the pawnbroker. The governor lent him £4 9s. A few weeks later, the governor met him in the street, very smartly dressed and reminded him about the loan. He never got the money back. During this time, Knowles was living at 2  Lion Terrace Edgeware Road. He was married and had a son.

In 1836, Knowles and Hole set up the Independent and West Middlesex Assurance Company. This was a business for which they were entirely unfitted, but that was irrelevant.   Hole was the secretary. The directors included Knowles; George Williams, a solicitor who had been declared bankrupt in December 23 1832; and the appropriately named James Devereux Hustler, surgeon, who had been in the King’s Bench prison in January 1835 in ‘utter destitution’. Another dozen names were added to the official list, but these were, alas, all fictitious. George Edward Williams, the son of George Williams was the auditor and Knowles’s son worked as a clerk in the offices, which were in Portman Square, off Baker Street in London. It was, and is, a very grand location.

London’s Portman Square, little changed since the 1840s

A little later, more genuine (at least as far as their names were concerned) directors were taken on. Hole’s brother-in-law, William Whittaker, was one. Another was his wife’s sister’s husband, William Edward Taylor, a journeyman locksmith and bell-hanger. He was appointed a director and attended the office on Fridays. His job was to sign anything put in front of him and for this he was paid £80 a year. He was told to dress smartly and to wear rings on his fingers. Hole actually gave him a ring to wear to the office and docked his pay if he did not. Then there was George Wilson, who kept a school in Edgeware Road and applied to be a clerk at the firm. He was accepted and his name was placed on the list of directors. He also attended one day a week and signed policies and annuity deeds.

An advertisement (Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

The Company’s prospectus was lavish. They offered annuities at an astonishing 10% per annum and insurance policies. They claimed to have £1 million in funds, raised by selling shares at £50 each and that the Duke of Wellington was among their clientele.

Hole, Knowles, Williams and Hustler agreed to appropriate a certain number of shares to each of them for what they called their vested rights. They drew money on these and bought carriages and smart grey horses with the cash.  They settled shares on their respective wives, too.

Then Hole and the solicitor Williams fell out and there were mutual recriminations. Hole was eased out, but got an impressive golden handshake: £20,000 with an annuity of £600, the freeholds of houses in Gloucester Street, Surrey Place and Maida Vale and ‘a splendid silver cup with lid’. He went in 1839.

The next year, rumours started in the press that the company was not what it seemed. Hole was recalled. He asked for a statement of business since his departure and was told that the company had received £38,000-£40, 000 and it had all been spent. He refused to get re-involved.

Williams also retired from the business leaving it in the hands of Knowles and Hustler and went abroad. Hole was then persuaded to put his signature on two promissory notes for £500. Inevitably they were refused. Hole made it clear that he intended to leave the country and was promptly arrested. He spent a month in prison and his goods were seized and sold. He had put the property he had acquired in 1839 in trust for his wife and children, but this was overturned in court and the houses were forfeit, too.

Knowles disappeared. It was rumoured that he was abroad and that he had been seen playing ‘rouge et noir’ in Baden-Baden.

The gaming tables of Baden-Baden. Was this where Knowles spent his ill-gotten gains?

The business had been a sham from the start, though it did, occasionally, actually pay out on policies and annuities were paid until 1840. Many people lost their life savings. A Dr Harrison had been persuaded to part with £600 to buy an annuity, some of which was his wife’s. He said she died of a broken heart after the money was lost. A man called Thomas Higgs killed himself after losing £100. The company had issued over three thousand worthless policies and the total swindled was reckoned to be £300,000. The press called it an ‘atrocious system of robbery’, ‘villainous’ and ‘plunder’, though one journalist thought ‘it is most astonishing how any man in his senses could be lured into the gilded but clumsily baited snare’.

In 1842, Hole was sued by eleven investors who hoped to get their money back. He was found liable for £5000. He tried to avoid payment by claiming insolvency, saying he owed £80, 732. The case was dismissed.

William Hole died, destitute, in 1849. His widow Harriet, now fifty-nine, had little option but to go into service as a monthly nurse.

The Many Causes of Sarah Kingsley

Sarah Maria Kingsley Haselwood was born in Chelsea in 1842, the second daughter of Richard Haselwood, a captain in the Indian Navy and his wife Ann. Her father died before she was nine, and her widowed mother took the girls to live with her own mother, in Manor Terrace, Chelsea.  Sarah later worked as a governess.

On 19 July 1864, she married her second cousin, Henry Kingsley, twelve years her senior. He was the  younger brother of Charles Kingsley, who had published The Water Babies the previous year. After leaving Oxford University, Henry had tried his luck in the Australian goldfields but was unsuccessful and returned to England after five years to write a novel,  The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859), set in Australia. More novels followed, of which Ravenshoe (1861) was the best received.

Henry Kingsley

In 1869, Henry and Sarah moved to Edinburgh, where he was to edit the Daily Review, but he soon gave this up, and in 1870 became war correspondent for the paper, covering the Franco-German War of 1870-71.  He continued to write fiction, though this was increasingly poorly reviewed. In  1874, the couple moved to Cuckfield in Sussex, where Henry died of cancer on 24 May 1876.

Sarah named her house after Henry’s book

Sarah moved in 1884 to Wimbledon, where she lived in a house she called ‘Ravenshoe’. Still young, with no ties and presumably an inheritance from Henry, she devoted the rest of her life to good causes, mostly to do with temperance and ‘morals’.

The year of her arrival in Wimbledon she became embroiled in  controversy when the annual gathering of military volunteers on Wimbledon Common attracted the usual rowdy mob of London hangers-on. The Times published a piece entitled ‘The Wimbledon Scandal’ and  Sarah wrote to the editor to verify the debauched scene the paper had reported. She said that she and other ladies had formed a ‘vigilance committee’ to protect ‘young girls, especially of the servant class, from the yearly contamination of immoral women and equally immoral men’.  It was suggested in other publications that Sarah and her kind wanted to keep the common for themselves, and not have it used by ordinary people to enjoy themselves.

By 1887 she was president of the Women’s Union in Wimbledon (part of the Church of England Temperance Society), one of a myriad of religious and secular organisations advocating either complete abstinence from alcohol or extreme moderation. Sarah was in favour of total abstinence, except for medical reasons. In  1888 she became a Guardian of Kingston  Board of Guardians (which included Wimbledon), their first woman board member. She was unafraid to speak her mind and told them that the workhouse master was inefficient and the surgeon too old to do his job properly.  She also founded the Wimbledon Society for Befriending Young Girls – specifically, young women who had left the workhouse who needed help to find accommodation and work.

In July 1891 the Surrey Comet announced that Sarah was moving to Hythe to do mission work and giving up public speaking as the strain on her voice was too great.  At a farewell presentation in October, she said Sandgate, where she intended to live, was a place where there was ‘an enormous amount of indifference and a great deal of sin.’ This remark was scarcely a good introduction to her new home and it not unnaturally upset the local press, who published her comments before her arrival together with a rebuttal.

Sarah got over the strain of public speaking very quickly and gave her first talk in Hythe a month later, entitled ‘How We Got Our Bible.’  In religious matters, she seems to have changed her allegiance and henceforward was associated with the Emmanuel Chapel in Park Road, Hythe. It was run by two sisters who were members of the Plymouth Brethren.

She continued with her temperance work. In 1894 she became secretary of the Folkestone Branch of the British Women’s Gospel Temperance Association (the gospel was preached at every meeting); the next year she was on the executive committee of the Kent Temperance Congress and attended the National Congress.

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Temperance propaganda which shows the effects of alcohol on all levels of society

Politically, Sarah seems not to have been partisan, but joined the Hythe Ratepayers Association, a pressure group which wanted to see value for money in local government. There were a few other women members: they were dubbed ‘the Screeching Sisterhood’ by the local press.   As the 1890s progressed, support for the Ratepayers’ Association declined, ironically becauvse it involved the council in an expensive legal case. In1898, Sarah took on its reorganisation, only to be dubbed a ‘Demon of Discord’ by another local newspaper.

At the same time, she was asking awkward questions of the council, usually through lengthy letters to the press. In one, she wanted to know if there had been any systematic investigation of the number of people living together in the town’s slum cottages: she referred to a recent case ’too disgusting and indecent to write about in any public paper’.  She wanted to know why an alcoholic woman was prosecuted for neglecting her children and her husband was not and why publicans were willing to serve the couple’s ten-year-old daughter when she was sent out late to buy beer.

The temperance movement had a good number of supporters in Hythe. At the town’s 1901 licensing sessions, a ratio of one licensed house per 222 persons was reported, and the police wanted to see a reduction. March 1902 saw the first meeting of Hythe and District United Temperance Council, which was attended by delegates from the various temperance organisations in the town and Sarah Kingsley was unanimously elected President.  She took her responsibilities seriously. A couple of years later she  followed a soldier she suspected of being drunk into a public house and demanded that the landlord refuse to serve him. The publican ignored her and served the soldier, who then threw his beer over Sarah. In 1905 she wrote to the Board of Guardians of the workhouse to insist that the inmates should not be given their annual treat of beer on Christmas Day. The Guardians disagreed and when she wrote another very long letter to them on the same subject two years later, they declined even to read it.

The Guardians of Elham Union Workhouse, which served Hythe, set up a Ladies Visiting Committee in 1893. Sarah joined it the next year, visiting the women’s and children’s wards, holding gospel temperance meetings and offering private interviews with the women.

Other causes caught her attention. In 1903 she refused to pay her rates because the 1902  Education Act had allocated local funding to church schools. She was prosecuted and told the court: ‘I am not going to contribute to the Roman Catholic schools’. The statement was greeted with applause by the packed court, but the magistrates still issued a distress warrant.  In 1910 she espoused the cause of Women’s Suffrage and organised a branch of the New Constitutional Society (a non-militant group) in Hythe.

She was seventy-two by the time war broke out and seems to have by then withdrawn from public life.  She moved from her house in Napier Gardens to the Bayle, in Folkestone, where she died in August 1922.

The causes she espoused are not, today, fashionable and it is easy to belittle the attempts of middle-class women to right the wrongs perpetrated on and by the working class, or to dismiss the women as ‘do-gooders’.  The press tried to undermine Sarah by name-calling but it did not deter her and there is no doubt that she cared,  especially about the poor women and girls she came into contact with. She was sometimes not tactful and sometimes prejudiced, but she gave her work her all.

 

 

Frank Bourne- a modest hero

Frank Edward Bourne was perhaps an unlikely man to become a national hero, and to star, albeit posthumously in a blockbuster film. Born on 24 April 1853 to James, a labourer who took work wherever he could find it, and his wife Harriet, he was their eighth child and grew up in Balcombe, in Sussex (population in 1872, 880). Somehow, his mother managed to find space in their cottage to take in foster children. Frank must have gone to school, because as an adult he could read and write and helped his illiterate colleagues with their correspondence.

Life in Balcombe would not have offered anything other than a labourer’s life, and when he was eighteen, Frank joined the 24th Regiment of Foot at Reigate. He was paid six shillings a day, most of which was withheld for messing and washing. He was very quickly promoted  corporal and then sergeant and just after he was sent to South Africa in February 1878, he was promoted Colour Sergeant. He was still only twenty-four: privately, his men called him ’The Kid’ or sometimes ‘Boy Bourne’.

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Frank Bourne as a young man

In January 1879 the regiment, now the South Wales Borderers, was sent to Pietermaritzburg under the command of Lord Chelmsford. Thirteen companies, including Frank’s own ‘B’ company crossed the Buffalo River into Zulu country on 11 January. While the rest of the men carried on to engage the enemy, ‘B’ company was left behind at a mission post to guard the hospital stores. The mission was called Rorke’s Drift.

Frank’s ‘B’ Company

Chelmsford’s five-thousand-strong force was humiliatingly defeated by the Zulus at Isandlwana. The enemy then turned their attention to the mission. ‘B’ company, believing themselves to be safe, had done nothing to fortify the place. They made do with what they had – sacks of mealie ( Indian corn) and biscuit tins. They had about 150 fighting men plus some hospital patients.

One depiction of the Battle of Rourke’s Drift

The battle started at 4.30pm when the mission was attacked by between three and four thousand Zulu warriors. The attack continued all night. The Zulus departed the next morning shortly before the arrival of Lord Chelmsford’s relief column. Remarkably, only seventeen men of ‘B’ company had been lost. Of the survivors, eleven were awarded the Victoria Cross and four, of whom Frank was one, the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The battle was headline news for months, every snippet of information being fed by the press to a public greedy for detail (and it has been suggested that the government encouraged this appetite, to gloss over the disastrous events at Isandlwana). The number of Zulus in the attack crept up to six thousand. One woman, an artist, wanted to paint the scene for the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition and had a miniature Rorke’s Drift built in her garden. Dozens of pictures have since been painted, the battle was  even turned into a war game and Rorke’s Drift into a tourist attraction.

A Rorke’s Drift war game set-up

That the battle is well-known to so many today is in part due to the 1964 film Zulu. Frank was played by Nigel Green, incongruously nearly a foot taller than the historical figure (Frank was only 5 feet 6 inches tall; Green was 6 feet 5 inches) and much older (Green was forty at the time compared to Frank’s twenty-four).

Nigel Green as Frank in ‘Zulu’. He is wearing an Indian Mutiny medal, from 1857, when Frank was four years old. 

For Frank, though, the aftermath was business as usual. As well as his DCM, which came with an annuity of £10, he was offered a commission, but turned it down as he could not afford the expense involved. He was sent to India and served in that country and Burma for the next fifteen years. On 27 September 1882, he married, in St Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay (Mumbai), Eliza Mary Fincham. She had been born in Harwich, the daughter of a mariner.

St Thomas’s Cathedral, Mumbai – a splendid setting for a wedding

Their first son, Percy, was born hundreds of miles from Bombay, in Secunderabad, in 1883. The next son, Sydney, came into the world in Burma. At daughter, Beatrice was born on Boxing Day 1889 at Ranikhet, a hill station in Northern India.

The next year, Frank decided to take his commission, twelve years after it was offered. He was sent home, and his next child, another daughter, was born in Berkshire. Then, in May 1893, he was made adjutant of the School of Musketry in Hythe. It must have been a relief, to his wife at least, to have somewhere to call home.

The School of Musketry, Hythe, now demolished

The fourteen years in Hythe passed peacefully. Another daughter was born; Frank was promoted captain; his son Percy joined the Royal Navy Pay Office; Frank was promoted major and his son Sydney got a place at Christ’s Hospital School in London.

Frank in later life in a captain’s uniform

In 1907 Frank retired from the army. He seems, during his stay in Hythe, to have been modest about his South African adventure: the local press reported his role at Rorke’s Drift as part of a tribute when he left. He was also presented with a large oil painting of the battle, which he kept afterwards in his study.

He and Eliza retired to Beckenham, where he became assistant secretary of the National Miniature Rifle Club. ‘Miniature rifles’ were what is now called small bore rifles and their recreational use at small ranges had been encouraged after the Boer War in order, it was hoped, to produce a body of men who in the event of war would already be skilled marksmen.

Frank’s retirement did not last long. When war broke out in 1914, he went to the War Office and offered himself for active service but was told he was too old. Instead, he was sent to Dublin to run the new School of Musketry there. During this time he was responsible for training over 10,000 British and Irish marksmen and was rewarded at the end of hostilities with the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and an OBE.

He went back to Beckenham and miniature rifles. Both his sons had served in, and survived, the war. Percy became a Commander in the Pay Service and Sydney a stockbroker in Newcastle. There was sadness when his second daughter, Constance, died in Beckenham in 1922 and his wife Eliza in 1931.

Frank moved in with his eldest daughter. Beatrice, who was married to an architect and ran a tea room in Dorking. He died on VE Day, 8 May 1945, the last survivor of the action  at Rorke’s Drift.

Frank’s grave in Beckenham cemetery. He is buried with Eliza and Constance

After his death, a blue plaque was put on Frank’s house in Beckenham

In 1936, Frank had given an interview to the BBC about his experiences at Rorke’s Drift. The original recording is not extant, but it was transcribed and can be read here:

http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/defenders/tran.htm

 

 

Thomas Head Raddall, Father and Son

 

Thomas Head Raddall, senior and…                                                 Thomas Head Raddall, junior

Thomas Head Raddall senior was born in Hampshire on 6 December 1876, the only son of another Thomas, a draper’s assistant, and his wife Eleanor. He had four sisters.

His father seems to have had a nervous breakdown, attributed to alcohol abuse. The family left Hampshire and moved to West Ham. Young Thomas worked as a cashier in an office near St Paul’s Cathedral, where he ate his lunchtime sandwich each day until when he was just fourteen or fifteen, he enlisted in the Royal Marines as a drummer boy and was sent to the Royal Marines depot at Deal. He stayed there until just before his eighteenth birthday and during this time he met Ellen Marion Gifford (Nellie) of nearby Eastry, who was to become his wife.

The Royal Marines depot at Deal, now private housing

He then enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division on 18 October 1892 and saw service in the Far East from 1896 to 1900, cruising between Hong Kong, Weihaiwei in the north-east of China and Kobe and Nagasaki in Japan. Back in the UK, he married his Nellie on 23 September 1900 at Eastry. Their first child, a daughter, was born in Deal ten months later.

Thomas had been promoted and now applied for a post at the quaintly-named School of Musketry in Hythe. In fact, it now trained men in the use of modern rifles and machine guns. Thomas was himself a first-class marksman and he got the job and the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor. It was in the married quarters of the School that Nellie gave birth to a son, named Thomas Head Raddall for his father. The birth took place on Friday 13 November 1903, but Nellie, obviously a superstitious woman, always told her son he was born on 14 November. He was baptised at St Leonard’s church.

The School of Musketry in Hythe, since demolished

Young Thomas later remembered Hythe as a ‘sleepy watering place’. He learned to walk in the School’s Barrack square and attended the National School in the town, where in the library he became entranced by the stories of Fenimore Cooper with his Indians and Leatherstockings. Encouraged by his music-loving father, he went to piano lessons with ‘a little, ape-faced man’ who whacked his fingers with an ivory baton when he made a mistake.

Thomas senior, meanwhile, was realising that the School of Musketry, Hythe, the British army and Great Britain itself had little more to offer him and his family. The high spot of his time in the town had been his membership of the British rifle team at the London Olympics of 1908. He was full of ideas and wanted more opportunity for his children. When he was thirty-five, in 1913, he applied for a post in Canada as a firearms instructor for the militia and was successful. In May  that year, the little family – there was now another daughter – sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hythe was very civilised compared to the small wooden house without electricity in which they now lived.

War broke out in Europe the next year. Thomas senior enlisted on 22 September 1914. and got a commission in the Winnipeg Rifles. He was sent to France in 1915 but managed to stop in Hythe on the way to catch up with old friends. He was shot in the arm at Ypres and was the first wounded soldier to return to Nova Scotia but was soon back in France and in 1916 was promoted Captain. Wounded in 1917, he fought at Passchendaele, now as a major; by August 1918, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel.

He was killed on 9 August 1918 by machine-gun fire, in a wheat field while leading his men in an attempt to capture Hatchet Wood near Amiens. During his war, he had been mentioned in dispatches three times and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was buried in what was to become the Manitoba Cemetery, Caix and commemorated on the war memorial in Hythe.

Thomas’s name on the Hythe War Memorial

Nellie and her children meanwhile had narrowly escaped death in Nova Scotia when a French ship full of explosives blew up in Halifax harbour, destroying large parts of the town. Young Thomas’s school was temporarily the town mortuary for some of the two thousand people killed.

A street in Halifax after the explosion

Thomas senior’s death left his widow in worsened financial circumstances. Her only income was his army pension and since the explosion, everything necessary for life had rocketed in price. Thomas and his older sister had to leave school and get jobs. Thomas failed to get his first choice of work as a trainee reporter and took a training course to enable him to work as a wireless officer on merchant ships. He passed the course and started his career as a ‘sparks’ on the ss War Karma in 1919.

His mother, meanwhile, had gone back to Kent with her daughters, where she hoped her limited income would go further. They settled at Kingsdown, near Dover, but things did not work out. Many of her old friends had moved on, often the men had been killed in the war, and Kingsdown was so quiet that Ellen feared that the marriage and employment prospects for her daughters were limited. In 1921 they went back to Canada. The girls took typing and shorthand classes and got jobs in the city of Halifax.

Kingsdown in the 19th century

At nineteen, Thomas decided to leave the sea, went to business school and took a job as a book-keeper in a paper mill in Liverpool (Nova Scotia). While working there, he met and in 1927 married Edith Freeman. The next year their first child was stillborn.

In 1931, Thomas started writing. His first efforts, commissioned by his employer, were a series of small books on the history of Nova Scotia. These included advertising for the paper industry. Encouraged by their reception, he started writing short stories, which were also well received and gave him enough extra income to buy his house in 1935, by which time he had a small son and daughter.

At the outbreak of war, he tried to join up, but was told his wireless operating skills were out-dated, though he was commissioned as a reservist. He had now published his first novel, His Majesty’s Yankees and in 1943 signed a contract with Doubleday Doran for a second, Roger Sudden.

Thereafter, there was no looking back. He quit his job and became a full-time writer at forty. He was prolific and best known for his meticulously researched historical fiction. He received Governor General’s Awards for three of his books, The Pied Piper of Dipper Creek (1943), Halifax, Warden of the North (1948) and The Path of Destiny (1957) and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971.

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The three prize-winning books by Thomas Head Raddall

In 1991 he endowed the he Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award to provide ‘the gift of time and peace of mind’ so essential to the creation of new work and which he himself had lacked in his early writing days. His family continues to support the award.

Thomas died on 1 April 1994. He was so esteemed in Canada that an exact replica of his study, furnished with his possessions, is on view at the Thomas Raddall Research Centre and his correspondence is housed at the Dalhousie University Archives.

Police and Politics

                                                  A sketch of John Bennett Tunbridge in 1894

John Bennett Tunbridge did not have an advantageous start in life. He was born in New Romney on 17 November 1850, the illegitimate son of a servant, Mary Tunbridge.  He spent his early years with her, his grandparents and their seven other children, until his mother’s marriage to William Apps, a groom.  By the age of ten, he was working as a butcher’s boy, though he must have combined this with school, as so many children did.  He could not possibly have imagined that he would one day travel to South America on the trail of a wanted man or catch the eye of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

He had received enough education to join the Metropolitan Police in December 1867, though he had initial doubts and resigned three months later. He then re-joined in September 1869. By 1871 he was a police constable.

He was also able enough to be promoted sergeant only two years later. On 17 November 1877 in Harrow, he married Ellen Maria Hatch, an Irishwoman and the daughter of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer. She was exactly three years younger – they shared a birthday and married on that date, too.  John was promoted inspector the next year.  From 1881 he served in the detective branch, working in the commissioner’s office from 1887. It was during this period that he and his family (a daughter, Milly Norah, had been born in 1882) started visiting Hythe, where in 1886 he intervened when a man tried to eject two boys from a boat on the canal, hitting one of them with an oar. The other man came off worse.

Boating on the Royal Military Canal was – and still is – a popular summer pastime

Professionally, he was involved in the capture of Thomas Neill Cream, the ‘Lambeth Poisoner’ who murdered women sex workers with strychnine.

 

John Tonbridge               and    Benjamin Cream

Photographed at the time of the latter’s arrest*

 

He was then sent to Argentina to bring home  Jabez Balfour, a corrupt financier who had left thousands of investors penniless and then fled the country.

A ‘Vanity Fair’ caricature of Jabez Balfour

John set off on 27 January 1894 and sailed from Southampton to Buenos Airies for what turned out to be a rough and unpleasant month-long voyage. On arrival, he checked into the Grand Hotel. Balfour had already been arrested, and the press confidently expected he would be back on British soil by the end of March. This was wishful thinking.  Balfour employed lawyers to fight his extradition, then, through pleading ill-health, managed to get himself released from prison. In April, matters were no further forward, but John received the news that he had been promoted to Chief Inspector.  Balfour appealed to the Supreme Court. In August he was rumoured to have been surrendered to the British authorities (ie John), but this was untrue: he had merely been re-imprisoned.  In November, the extradition was confirmed by the Supreme Court, but Balfour was then charged with other offences, which took precedence and his removal was delayed – again.

John took action. Unable, as a police officer, to communicate his misgivings directly to the British press,  he wrote in January 1895, to a friend who shared his letter with journalists. In it John complained that he had given up hope of any extradition within the next four-and-a-half  years. The ploy worked and in February a replacement was sent out to relieve him. As if to spite him, Balfour was finally removed from Argentina in April. He was subsequently sentenced to fourteen years penal servitude.

John decided to call it a day. He retired  in September 1895 with an ‘exemplary’ certificate and a substantial  pension, and the family moved permanently (or so it seemed) to Hythe, where John had acquired property.  The local paper, the Hythe Reporter, suggested that his experience would make him a very useful town councillor. It was not to be, or not yet.

On the other side of the world, the New Zealand Police Force was in need of a man to clean up its corruption-ridden operation. Premier Richard Seddon, visiting London,  asked the advice of Sir Edward Bradford, chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and John Tunbridge’s name was mentioned. Perhaps, in his mid-forties, John felt too young to retire and he agreed to go to New Zealand, sailing from Plymouth to  Wellington (first class) in 1897 to become Police Commissioner for the country.  Ellen and Milly accompanied him.

RichardSeddon1905.jpg

                                                Richard Seddon, Prime Minister of New Zealand 1892-1906.

The next year he travelled round the country with the Royal Commission on Police, learning about the work of his police force and contributing ideas on reform.  After the Commission reported, along lines which accorded with his own views, he had a mandate for sweeping changes and the government gave him a free hand.  He began improvements at once, focusing on the crucial role of non-commissioned officers – the ‘backbone’ of the organisation.  He established a training college in Wellington, created a pension scheme for policemen and introduced merit-based promotions and increased pay.

He was, of course, subject to criticism. Some said his newly-efficient police force imposed a ‘reign of terror’; others thought he was too lax in internal discipline, especially with regard to drunkenness. In April 1902,  the government  overturned his lenient treatment of Nelson police who had been accused of inefficiency, immorality and corruption. John believed their offences to be minor, but the government apparently made its decision on the basis of information provided privately. What should have been an internal police matter had led to public political censure of the commissioner.

John, in protest,gave in his notice in January 1903 – which led to widespread condemnation of the government’s actions, but to no avail. John, Ellen and Milly  sailed for England and retired once more to Hythe, where they lived in North Road.

That he would become a councillor was inevitable, and in 1904 he made his first foray into local affairs by suggesting that unemployed men should be used to build homes for the working classes on council-owned land.  In November 1905 he was elected to serve on the council, but was not immediately popular with his colleagues, especially with John James Jeal, a builder who had been violently opposed to John’s home-building plan.  The feud continued for years and neither man lost an opportunity to undermine the other.

John’s background meant that he was used to giving orders and used to being obeyed.  As a councillor, he was often accused of being domineering and intolerant of faults in others, however trivial. He was much criticised for his action when two children stole apples from his garden: they were on a three weeks’ holiday in Hythe arranged by the Jewish Open-Air Fund Association, and he had them sent home immediately. In 1906, he  took particular exception to a travelling show: ‘…. on the stage outside, a lady kicked her legs about and showed a superabundance of rather unclean lace. Many people think there is too much of this going on, but no doubt it is a very great attraction to a certain part of the neighbourhood.’ Another letter to the local paper next week remarked that  ‘this apparently self-appointed censor of the public morals of our town’ had been singularly unobservant: the dancer with the frilly petticoats was, in fact, a boy.

In 1907 he found himself on the wrong side of the law when he struck ex-Councillor Frank White in the face at a meeting of the Hythe Ratepayers’ Association after White called him a liar. White brought an action for assault; John pleaded guilty, claiming provocation and was fined £1 with 9/- costs.

Despite the criticisms, John was re-elected year after year and continued as a councillor and JP for the rest of his life, serving as mayor in 1909.  He took a particular interest in beautifying Hythe by planting trees and shrubs and in providing allotments and decent housing for working men and always insisted on value for money in the Council’s activities. When war broke out, he volunteered to serve as a Special Constable, an experience which must have been strange after a gap of over forty years.

He died at home on 6 October 1928 after only a few days illness and was buried in Saltwood churchyard. He died only a few miles from his New Romney birthplace, but his journey had encompassed the whole globe.

John’s grave in Saltwood churchyard. He is buried with Ellen

(Paul Dennis)

In 1907 , His daughter, Milly Norah had  married, in Saltwood church, Innes Harold Stranger, a lawyer who went on to become a King’s Counsel.

Ellen died, also in Hythe, in 1934.

* With thanks to Colin Garrow

 

Tragedy and Farce – The Hyhams

James and Anne Hyham had four sons and a daughter, born between 1798 and 1810. James, a shoemaker,  died young in 1812, but his widow managed to bring up her children without asking for parish relief. Anne received an annual gown each December from Mrs Ward’s charity, set up in 1751 to provide clothing for poor people of Hythe who received no help from other sources. It was perhaps her only new dress each year (1).

John, the eldest surviving son, was born in 1800 had a chequered career which stretched from the ineptly criminal to the farcical.  He became an agricultural labourer  and in 1825 married Elizabeth Brizeley. They had a son, James, in 1828 but Elizabeth died soon afterwards. John and James lodged at Redbrooke Cottages in Saltwood, until John decided one day in 1845 to pose as a pig dealer at Ashford Market. There he met a  Canterbury butcher, Mr Minter, offered to sell him two pigs, took Minter’s money and promised to deliver the animals the next week. Having no pigs, he went to Mr Rayner’s farm in Burmarsh, about five miles from Hythe, and stole two, got them into a cart and travelled all night to Canterbury to deliver them. Mr Rayner offered a £50 reward for information leading to the return of his animals and this yielded results. John was tried at Dymchurch and sent to prison for a year.

Ashford Livestock market in 1856

On his release, he married Martha Crapnell in 1847 and the couple went to live in Chapel Street, Hythe, where John worked a cordwainer (shoemaker), but he changed tack again and by 1861 was in charge of the canteen at Fort Montcrieff in West Hythe, a Coastguard station.  Then in the 1860s he was appointed Hythe Town Crier.

Perhaps life was a little dull, as in June 1868 he (aged 68)  and Isaac Hogben (53), a local fish dealer, decided to have a race to Canterbury.  Money – £5 each – was put on the race – and they set off up Stone Street in their horse-drawn carts. On arrival, each claimed victory.  John persuaded several people to swear (after a trip to the Flying Horse Inn) that he had won, but Hogben still denied it. To make matters worse, they were both arrested for ‘furious driving’ on the last leg of the race along Dover Road and fined £1 each

The Flying Horse Inn, at the end of Dover Road in Canterbury, the finishing point of the race.

The next month, he got involved in a fracas with a bill poster. John was working delivering advance publicity for a travelling circus and came into conflict with Richard Back, a local photographer who was equally keen to promote the annual Forresters’ fete at Brockhill. Each kept pasting his posters over those of the other. To quote the local newspaper:

On the morning of the fete, the rival bill-posters met under the market, each with a paste-pot and brush, defying each other. As soon as Back put up a poster, Hyham tore it down. The latter struck Mr Back and threw the contents of his paste-pot over him. Mr Back put up his arm to defend himself and somehow his paste brush ended up in Hyham’s mouth

Each of them was fined £1 16s.

It may be no coincidence that later that year, John retired as Town Crier.  He died ten years later.

His sister Elizabeth was the next oldest child. She was born in 1804 and married Edward Dixon Clarke in the town on 11 January 1830. Edward was a shoemaker but also worked for the Hythe town council as Town Sergeant and coal meter  (weighing coal which was delivered to the stade by collier boats), but was removed from office in 1838. Some suggested this was because he had voted for Conservative councillors rather than the Radicals (later Liberals) who now had the majority – votes were not then secret. His case was taken on by Edward Watts, formerly Town Clerk and himself at odds with the council. He was finally, in 1842, offered £25 compensation and in 1844 was reinstated with a salary of £5.16s a year.

He died two yeas later aged only forty-two, leaving Elizabeth pregnant with her ninth child.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth remained in their Hillside Street home.  Like her mother before her, she managed to bring up her family without relying on the Overseers of the Poor, by taking work as a monthly nurse, caring for women and their new-borns in the weeks after childbirth.  She died herself in 1853

Elizabeth’s grave in St Leonards Churchyard

She is buried with her husband and an infant daughter

All her children’s ups and downs would have been a worry to their mother, Anne, but it was her youngest, Thomas, born in 1807, who must have broken her heart.

Thomas became a shoemaker, but on 6 January 1827, when he was just nineteen, he was convicted at a Hythe Sessions of the Peace of Highway Robbery and sentenced to death.

On 1 November the previous year, he had been drinking in the Bell public house along with a seaman of the Coastal Blockade, John Pendall and several other men. Pendall left before the others to return to Fort Twiss, where he was based, but was attacked by two men, pushed to the ground and relieved of his silver watch. He did not know his assailants’ names, but recognised one of them from earlier in the evening.  The description he gave the constable to whom he reported the attack was enough to lead to Thomas’s arrest.  He escaped at first and threw the watch behind some bushes, but was soon re-captured. The other man was never found and Thomas did not give him away.

Thomas was removed to Maidstone prison to await execution.

His mother got up a petition to appeal to the King for clemency. The grounds were that Thomas was young; that he had got into bad company and was drunk when the offence, which was his first,  took place. He was, the petition said, truly repentant. The petition was signed by seventy-one Hythe citizens and eleven of the jury  who had tried him and was accompanied by a supporting letter from Stuart Marjoribanks, the town’s M.P. (2). On 13 March, Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, wrote to the Maidstone magistrates whom managed the prison that the King, George IV, was pleased to extend his mercy and pardon the crime, providing that Thomas be transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales.

His mother had saved his life, but must have known that she would never see him again.

He was sent first to the prison hulk the Dolphin, moored at Chatham. Hulks were decommissioned ships, no longer fit to go to sea and were convenient temporary holding quarters for convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and other penal colonies. During the day the convicts laboured in the Chatham dockyard. Thomas’s gaoler reported that he was from a respectable family and that his behaviour was ‘orderly’.

The hulks were overcrowded and disease-ridden and it may have come as a relief to set sail on 24 May 1827 on board the SS Champion , arriving in New South Wales 17 October 1827. Thomas was one of a hundred and twenty-eight passengers, fifty seven of whom had had life sentences. On arrival, he was put to work in a road gang. He waited nearly seventeen years for his Ticket of Leave, which gave him some limited freedom, by which time he was in Goulbourne in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. It had a population of about seven hundred. He petitioned for a conditional pardon 1849, which was refused, and again in 1855(3). The outcome is unknown and from then on Thomas disappears from the record.

His mother died as a Sister of St John’s Hospital in Hythe. The title ‘Sister’ referred back to the hospital’s medieval religious origins. It had always accepted Hythe men and women of good character who had fallen on hard times. Anne ended her days in relative comfort, at least.

  1.  Kent Archives: H1205
  2. National Archive: HO 17/25/182
  3.  New South Wales Archives 4/4185; Reel 951

The Luck of the Lotts

William and Margaret Lott of Hythe had six sons between 1727 and 1742. They were a well-to-do family, but subject to rather more  dramatic changes of luck and quirks of fate than most. The boys all grew up and married and had children of their own, and all was well until 1768.

John was their eldest, a butcher by trade, with a shop and substantial house and stables in Hythe. He had married, been widowed and had a little daughter, Mary. In his mid-forties, he became enamoured of  a twenty-year-old servant in his household, Susannah Mummery. He proposed marriage,  but Susannah refused and when he became importunate, she left his service and went to live in Rolvenden.

There she met a young man called Benjamin Buss, who, it was claimed in one report ‘subsisted chiefly by smuggling’. Benjamin suggested to Susanna that as John Lott was well-off, she should marry him as he would be bound to die first and she would inherit. She appears to have been persuaded by this argument, and the marriage took place in Rolvenden on 15 August 1768. John now had only eleven days left to live.

 

 

Rolvenden church, where John Lott married Susannah Mummery

Susannah later said that it was immediately after the marriage that Benjamin Buss suggested poisoning John Lott. He seems to have accompanied the couple on their return to Hythe and visited the apothecary, Mr Gipps, there and bought two ounces of ‘corrosive sublimate’, mercuric chloride. It was then widely used for treating syphilis, but in larger doses was a poison.

The first attempt to murder John was at an inn in Burmarsh, near Hythe, where John was a regular. He had ridden out there with Susannah and Benjamin, presumably to view his stock, as his brother William a grazier, leased thirty acres there. They ordered a milk bumbo, a mixture of milk, rum, sugar and cinnamon, but John’s portion was laced with poison. He vomited, but recovered. Unfortunately for Susannah and Benjamin, the substance left a suspicious sediment in the bottom of the drinking vessel.

The Shepherd and Crook Inn at Burmarsh

 

Benjamin purchased more corrosive sublimate, which Susannah administered and John finally succumbed on 26 August, having made his will two days earlier. Poisoning was suspected. Susannah, who had bought mourning clothes  as a grieving widow would, was interviewed by a magistrate and seems to have confessed immediately and implicated Benjamin Buss. He denied everything, but they were both arrested and confined in Canterbury Gaol.

The ruins of Canterbury Castle, which housed the County gaol in the eighteenth century

They were brought for trial on 8 March 1769, but as a key witness, Mr Gipps the apothecary, could not attend, they were remanded in Maidstone gaol. There, at the end of April, Susannah gave birth to a daughter whom she named Betty. She said the child was John’s and that she and Benjamin had never been intimate. If the child was conceived on her wedding night, it would have been born at thirty-seven weeks gestation, which is perfectly plausible. Susannah kept the child with her in prison and had her brought into the courtroom to be suckled during her trial.

The trial finally took place in July and the guilty verdict was almost a foregone conclusion. Susanna and Benjamin were both sentenced to death. On 21 July 1769 they were taken to Penenden Heath. Benjamin was hanged first, followed by Susanna, dressed in her mourning clothes. Her body was then tied to a stake and burnt.

Little Betty Lott, now an orphan, does not seem to have been claimed by anyone. Presumably the Lott family thought she was Benjamin’s child. Susannah’s mother, Elizabeth, was still alive and maybe Benjamin Buss had family, but the child was unwanted. She died, aged two, in Maidstone and was buried in All Saints churchyard.

John cannot have suspected Susannah of poisoning him, since his will, made only forty-eight hours before he died, left her £300. This represented over eleven years earnings for a skilled tradesman, so was a substantial sum, but maybe not what she and Benjamin Buss had hoped for. However, John’s main concern was to provide for his daughter Mary. His house and shop, all his stock cattle and swine, his household goods, furniture and ready money all went to her as soon as she was twenty-one. Until then she would be under the guardianship of John’s brother William.

William was a year younger than John and had worked with another brother, Robert, as a grazier until the latter’s death in 1766.  Robert’s widow married again four years later, but had the good sense to insist on a pre-nuptial agreement which entitled her to keep the money Robert had left her. She made good use of it by lending it out to her former brothers-in-law, George, the fifth son and Richard, the sixth son, who was a carpenter. She charged them 4% per annum.

William had no need to borrow money, and already owned two properties in Hythe (1).  He had married Elizabeth Marsh and had a son, another John, who was apprenticed to a Canterbury surgeon, Mr Loftie.  In 1779 when this John was twenty-two, and still apprenticed, he inherited from a maiden aunt of his mother’s a small fortune.

The aunt (or ‘cozen’ as she called herself), Elizabeth Rolfe, had been a devoted friend of a wealthy woman called Catherine Thompson nee Eaton. The relationship seems to have been particularly close, and Miss Rolfe was generously remembered in Catherine’s will. Catherine gave her ’all my furniture and household goods whatsoever excepting my crimson damask which I give to my nephew Peter Eaton’. She also got all Catherine’s clothes and jewellery ‘except my diamonds’ and an annuity of £250 a year plus £4500. She was now a wealthy woman herself, and John inherited nearly everything, on one condition – that he change his surname to Eaton. Elizabeth Rolfe wanted her dear friend’s maiden name to go down in history.

This did not work out quite as she had wished.

Elizabeth Rolfe’s will. This section says ‘…continuing in the name of Eaton as must his son and son’s sons for by no other name shall my fortune be holden by it being the maiden name of my most inestimable friend Dame Cath. Thompson…’

There is no indication that John Lott Eaton ever practised as a surgeon after he inherited: he had no need to engage in what was still ‘trade’ (only university-trained physicians could call their work a profession), but he did erect an ornate memorial to his parents in St Leonard’s church and paid for them to be buried inside the church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lott memorial in St Leonard’s church, Hythe

 

 

John Lott Eaton died in 1807, unmarried and therefore without lawfully begotten sons or daughters.  He was an only child, and he left  his estate to his cousin, Elias Lott, the son of the fifth Lott brother, George.  Elias, as required in Mrs Rolfe’s will duly took the name of Eaton. However, John either overlooked or did not know about a codicil to Elizabeth Rolfe’s will, which stated that he were to die without children then the whole of her fortune should go to the son of Mr Loftie (another cozen), the Canterbury surgeon to whom John Lott Eaton had been apprenticed. This son was, of course, to take the name of Eaton.

He did, very, very promptly. John Lott Eaton died on 3 November 1807. On 17 November 1807, the King had granted a Royal Licence for the name change, which tends to suggest some action before John Lott Eaton’s death. Royal Licences usually took months to arrange. John Skeere Loftie of New Romney was now John Skeere Loftie Eaton. One source states that ‘being of an extravagant temperament, he ran through all his property, and died quite ruined in estate in 1817’. This assessment is borne out by other evidence: in 1816, he was prosecuted for not paying his rates and some of his possessions distrained; in his will he was only able to leave his heir, William, the remainder of a lease on a farm in Cobham, together with the hogs and pigs (but not the crops or sheep).  His widow was left with seven dependant children, and the creditors moved in as soon as probate was sought.

All this must have been galling for Elias Lott Eaton, who had briefly believed himself to be a man of means and had gone to the expense of changing his name for no reason.  He compensated by selling off the Lott family lands in Eastbridge for £3000 in 1811(2) and his uncle William’s Hythe property in 1825 (3), which he had, least, inherited, the Lott brothers not being very successful at producing heirs. He died in 1831, apparently intestate.

John Skeere Loftie Eaton’s heir, William Loftie Eaton did the only sensible thing for impoverished young gentlemen: he emigrated to South Africa in 1820 where he fathered many children.   The name of Loftie Eaton may still be found there. Thus, the name of Eaton, if not Mrs Rolfe’s fortune, was preserved.

  1.   Kent Archives: EK/U204/T114
  2.   Kent Archives: EK/U204/T43
  3.   Kent Archives:  F1966/9/Bt84/7