There were three more Finnis sons born to Robert and Elizabeth before their family was complete.
Stephen, was the next-born, baptised in St Leonard’s church on 28 May 1798. He joined the army as a Cadet in 1817 and was commissioned lieutenant in the 29th Bengal Native Infantry the next year. He died at Dinapore (now Danapur), a British garrison town near Patna, on 1 August 1819, aged twenty-one. There appear to have been no heroics attached to his death and it is likely that, like so many before and since in the sub-continent, he succumbed to disease, or, in August, monsoon season, the combination of heat, humidity and mosquitos.
The next son was Thomas Quested Finnis, born in 1801. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to James Smith, bowyer, for a period of seven years from 6th December 1815, his father paying an indenture of £150. He later said he had wanted to join the navy, but that the death of his brother Robert at Lake Erie when Thomas was only eleven had changed his mind. Bows were then (and still are) in use for sporting and recreational purposes, but the purpose of his apprenticeship seems to have been trade. He was admitted to the Freedom of the Bowyers’ Company in April 1823 and to the Freedom of the City of London in September. Now established, he could take a wife, and married Ann Lydia Ward on 28 March 1828 at St Matthew’s church, Brixton. Four years younger that him, she was the daughter of Henry William Ward, and had been born locally.
He went on to become a partner in a firm of provision merchants, Finnis and Fisher. Starting as grocers in London’s Tower Street, they gradually expanded into provisioning the many ships using the Port of London with goods like ‘marine soap’, which worked in sea water, and preserved meats, game and vegetables for long voyages. They started importing tobacco on their own account and pioneered trade to the port of Bussorah (now Basra) in Mesopotamia (Iraq). Thomas encouraged his Lynch nephews, sons of his sister Elizabeth, to explore the area and in 1851 received from them a set of marbles from Nineveh, some of which are now in the British museum.
Thomas Quested Finnis
He was busy in the civic life of the capital, too, his first appointment being in 1833 as Common Councillor for the Tower Ward, where his business was located. After that, the honours flowed in. He was created an Alderman as well as Sheriff in 1848 and was Deputy Governor of the Irish Society 1843/1844 – this was originally a land-owning and commercial enterprise set up by the London livery companies, but by the 1840s had a mainly charitable function. Thomas was ambitious and it was no secret that he wanted to be Lord Mayor of London. Mrs Caroline Chisolm, a social reformer working with emigrants to Australia, bought her beef for their voyage from him because, she said, ‘he would never be Lord Mayor if he gave the emigrants bad beef’.
Caroline Chisholm’s portrait on an Australian five dollar note
Thomas got his wish in 1856 and was the last Lord Mayor to have his parade on the River Thames.
Canaletto’s depiction of the Lord Mayor’s Parade on the Thames
The traditional dinner followed the procession, attended by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston; the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the Duke of Cambridge; the Marquis of Salisbury and an assortment of South American ambassadors. During his year in office Thomas entertained the Crown Prince of Prusia and raised half a million pounds to aid those affected by the Indian Mutiny (which included his own family). Ann Lydia assisted in the fund-raining and always presided at meetings of the ladies’ committees. In September 1857, she travelled to Southampton to meet the first British refugees from the fighting. Thomas was also a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works 1863 to 1866, the Thames Conservancy Board 1872 to 1883 and Treasurer of the Sons of the Clergy from 1874 to 1882.
He was also a member of the City Glee Club. This did not involve him having to sing, but to listen to the club’s professional singers perform catches and madrigals while, probably, enjoying a drink.
By the time he was forty, he was living in a mansion in Wanstead known as Park Gate, a sprawling house with gardens big enough to accommodate a boating lake. It was demolished in 1925, though its gatepost still stand.
Park Gate, pictured in 1888 (Wanstead Image Gallery)
Childless himself, Thomas took time to encourage and support his many nephews. Three of his sister Elizabeth’s sons benefited, as did his brother John’s sons, George, Robert, and John. He gave a home to their unmarried sister, Louisa Jane, and gave a splendid wedding for her cousin, Elizabeth Ann when she married Lazas Josef Constantine, the son of Lady Congleton. All of them had lost their fathers. He and Ann Lydia also entertained local school children every year, had special gatherings for ‘ragged shoeblack boys’ and were patrons of Wanstead Infant Orphans Asylum.
However, on 27 November 1861, Ann Lydia, Thomas’s wife of over thirty years died, after three days illness. Her body was taken to Hythe and buried in the family vault.
Thomas died at Park Gate on 29 November 1883, but the nephews and nieces were not forgotten in his will. Louisa Jane, now married to Captain Charles M’Laughlin RN, received the bulk of his £84,000 estate. Her siblings also benefitted, as did John Finnis’s widow Sarah and members of the Lynch family of Partry House Co. Mayo.
Thomas was buried in the family vault at St Leonard’s though there is no memorial there to him, or to his wife. There was, in fact, no memorial anywhere in the town until after the first World War, when a plaque was erected at his family home, Prospect House
The memorial to Thomas Quested Finnis and his younger brother John at Prospect House, Hythe
John was the last of the nine children of Robert and Elizabeth Finnis and was born on 28th January 1804 in Hythe. He joined the armed services of the East India Company, effectively the government of India, on 4 March 1820 and served in the 11th regiment of the Bengal Army. He was promoted lieutenant 1822 and thereafter his promotions were slow but steady until he became a full colonel in 1854. He married Sarah Bridgetta Dorothea Roche in India on 2 January 1838 and they had nine children together though two died in 1856.
The Indian Mutiny broke out at 5.30 pm on 10 May 1857. John rode out to address the mutineers in an ill-fated attempt to defuse the situation. Both he and his horse were shot, he was thrown to the ground and shot to death, the first European to die in the conflict.
Colonel John Finnis, looking rather fierce
The Governor-General of India, Charles Canning, wrote personally to Thomas Quested Finnis to tell him of his brother’s death.
One version of the death of John Finnis….
and another. The ‘shot in the back’ version was most popular in the press
John’s grave in Meerut
The East India Company awarded his son John a cadetship in Sept 1857 – they said it was an unsolicited award, but wrote to tell Thomas, the Lord Mayor just the same. The inhabitants of Tower Ward, who Thomas still represented, paid for a memorial to his brother in the church of St Dunstan in the East.
The memorial to John Finnis in St Dunstan’s Church, which was destroyed by enemy action in 1941
John’s wife, Sarah, brought her children, all except John, back to England and to Wanstead, where Thomas and Ann Lydia took them in. Sarah’s pension was only £281 12s 3d a year. After Ann Lydia’s death, Sarah acted as hostess for Thomas at the many civic and charitable events and entertainments held at Park Gate. She died in 1890, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.
To be continued…