Archive for May, 2014

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare you for tomorrow you shall die, the Lord above have mercy on your souls.” – Jailor every midnight at Newgate Prison

In August 1809 London pawnbroker John Annis was on board the convict ship Ann in Portsmouth harbour. He was probably extremely fearful about his imminent transportation to Australia. The convict ship was due to depart in only a few days and John had been sentenced at the Old Bailey in February to seven years transportation ‘beyond the seas’ for his felony of fraud. But just before the ship departed John’s fate changed. He had clearly been trying to get a pardon for his crime, and while this was being investigated the courts ordered him to be removed from the Ann and imprisoned him on the nearby prison hulk Captivity. This is John’s story, a story of impending doom to riches.

John was born in 1786 in Beaumont, Essex. His father was James Lash Annis, a well-to-do Essex gentleman farmer in Beaumont. The family had deep roots in Essex, as farmers and, before that, mariners. John’s father died while he was young but the family managed to procure him an apprenticeship as a pawnbroker in London in 1807 (or 1804) with a master pawnbroker called John Lucock. John was admitted to the freedom of the City of London. But then in November 1808 a London merchant called Thomas Pugh wanted to ship some goods to Antigua in the Caribbean on board a ship of the Muscovy Company.

The captain of the ship was a certain William Grisdale (see here). William suggested to Pugh that he use John Annis as his shipping broker. It seems young John was tempted to commit a bit of fraud. To cut a long story short, John severely undervalued the value of the shipment to the customs collectors in the London docks and then collected an inflated amount of custom’s taxes he should have paid, and said he had paid, from his client. But the customs’ inspectors checked the shipment and saw its real worth and John was arrested and imprisoned in the hell-hole of London’s Newgate Prison before being convicted of the felony at the Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. For the authorities the real crime was defrauding the taxman and not so much swindling his client. The transcript of his trial is reproduced at the end.

Inside Newgate Prison

Inside Newgate Prison

After his conviction John would have been returned to Newgate. We could say a lot about the squalor and horrors of Newgate, but it will suffice to use just a few words, those of Charles Dickens who visited the prison a little later:

A little farther on, a squalid-looking woman in a slovenly, thick- bordered cap, with her arms muffled in a large red shawl, the fringed ends of which straggled nearly to the bottom of a dirty white apron, was communicating some instructions to HER visitor – her daughter evidently. The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. It was some scheme for the woman’s defence that she was disclosing, perhaps; and a sullen smile came over the girl’s face for an instant, as if she were pleased: not so much at the probability of her mother’s liberation, as at the chance of her ‘getting off’ in spite of her prosecutors. The dialogue was soon concluded; and with the same careless indifference with which they had approached each other, the mother turned towards the inner end of the yard, and the girl to the gate at which she had entered.

The girl belonged to a class – unhappily but too extensive – the very existence of which should make men’s hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to THEM of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker’s, and they will understand you.

Note how the poor children Dickens saw would have been familiar with London’s pawnbrokers – John Annis was one.

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

John stayed in Newgate for the next five months before being transferred to the prison hulk Retribution, an old Spanish vessel, at Woolwich on the 22 July. The National Maritime Museum says that ‘during the first 20 years of their establishment (from about 1776) the hulks received around 8000 convicts. Almost one in four of these died on board. Hulk fever, a form of typhus that flourished in dirty crowded conditions, was rife, as was pulmonary tuberculosis’. In 1810 the notorious convict James Hardy Vaux was also a prisoner on the Retribution, he later wrote:

Every morning, at seven o’clock, all the convicts capable of work, or, in fact, all who are capable of getting into the boats, are taken ashore to the Warren, in which the royal arsenal and other public buildings are situated, and are there employed at various kinds of labour, some of them very fatiguing; and while so employed, each gang of sixteen, or twenty men, is watched and directed by a fellow called a guard. These guards are most commonly of the lowest class of human beings; wretches devoid of all feeling; ignorant in the extreme, brutal by nature, and rendered tyrannical and cruel by the consciousness of the power they possess; no others, but such as I have described, would hold the situation, their wages being not more than a day-labourer would earn in London. They invariably carry a large and ponderous stick, with which, without the smallest provocation, they will fell an unfortunate convict to the ground, and frequently repeat their blows long after the poor sufferer is insensible.

After a short time on the Retribution John was moved to Portsmouth to be ready for his transportation to Australia. He was first placed in the prison hulk Laurel. The Laurel was the Dutch ship Sirene, captured at the Battle of Saldanha Bay in South Africa in 1796. It was renamed HMS Daphne before being made a prison ship at Portsmouth in 1798.

A few days or a couple of weeks later John was moved again, this time to the convict ship Ann, ready for the long voyage to penal servitude in Australia. It is here that I started this story. John had obviously been trying to gain a pardon. It’s likely that he had enlisted his family and friends to help.

There were occasions in the course of the legal process when defendants might wish to petition the court about the conduct of their trial. Most importantly, convicted criminals often petitioned for a pardon or to have their punishment reduced, particularly if they had been sentenced to death, and often their friends, relatives, and neighbours sent petitions in support of their case. This was an important exercise, and frequently successful: around 60% of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century, rising to over 90% in the 1830s, were pardoned. Petitions for pardons and to remit sentences were typically addressed to the monarch in the eighteenth century, and later to ministers. Officials then asked for a report on the case before it was discussed by ministers. During the nineteenth century the developing bureaucracy within the Home Office played an ever-increasing role in these discussions and decision-making. These different processes through time generated some valuable records.

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

I don’t know if John Annis petitioned the courts or the king, but whatever the case his pleas bore fruit. On 22 August 1809, just six days before the convict ship Ann departed for its long voyage to New South Wales, John was ‘received’ on board the Portsmouth prison hulk Captivity. In 1807 the prison reformer and Justice of the Peace James Neild had visited both the Laurel and the Captivity in Portsmouth.

‘Neild reported that conditions on the three hulks he visited at Portsmouth (Captivity, Laurel and the hospital-ship Sagesse) were better than many. The fit and healthy prisoners from the Captivity and Laurel were employed in the dock yards and if they worked well, received the dock-yard allowance of one biscuit, one pint of small beer and a half-penny worth of tobacco each day. Those unable to work, and the convalescents, spun oakum and cut wood, which was sold in parcels to the ships of war.’ He said that ‘the Laurel had a complement of 196 convicts at the time of his inspection, of which 94 slept on the lower deck. The upper deck was divided into 3 wards: “19 convicts in the fore ward, 26 in the middle and 57 in the aft ward, where the best behaved were placed”. He noted that contrary to the usual practice, he found every porthole on the Captivity and the Laurel open to provide good ventilation. Despite these markedly better conditions, deaths on board the hulks at Portsmouth were still common; about one death every month on the Captivity and one every second month on the Laurel.’

NSW Convict Chain Gang

NSW Convict Chain Gang

While the convict ship Ann was wending its way to Australia, where it arrived in Sydney (Port Jackson) on 27 February 1810, John Annis was still being held on the hulk Captivity waiting to hear if his efforts to secure a pardon would be met with success. They were and on 23 December the records tell us that he was granted a ‘conditional pardon’ and he was released.

It is interesting to note that when the Ann arrived in Sydney John’s name was still included in the passenger list but it was noted he had been ‘discharged’ in Portsmouth, which shows how near he had come to suffering the unhappy fate of so many others he would have known.

John’s ‘conditional pardon’ tells us two things. First, that his conviction hadn’t been reversed, he was still a convicted felon. Second, ‘conditional’ means, as the word implies, that conditions were put on his release. Often this meant that the pardoned prisoner had to agree to serve in the army or navy for some years. Whether this was what John had to do we don’t know.

No doubt relieved that he had been pardoned, John returned to his life as a pawnbroker in London. He probably swore to himself that after his lucky escape he wouldn’t be so stupid again and would stay on the right side of the law. As far as we know he did. The next thing we hear of John is four years later. On 19 December 1813 John married Mary Ann Parsons in St. Botolph in London’s Aldgate. In 1815 the couple had their only (or only surviving) child, a girl they christened Mary Ann after her mother. Twenty years later when Mary Ann was still legally a minor she married (with her father’s consent) another London pawnbroker called Robert Attenborough, their union produced many children who all became wealthy and successful on the back of both John Annis’s work and that of his fellow pawnbroker Robert Attenborough.

London Pawnbroker

London Pawnbroker

Returning to John, in the decades following his escape from transportation John would find himself on many occasions back in the Old Bailey, but now not as a criminal but as a juror or as a witness in several trials involving people being tried for stealing from him or trying to fence/sell stolen goods through his pawnbroking business.

I would just like to highlight the last of these trials which took place in 1846. It involved a recent German immigrant to London called Philip Wetzel who ‘was indicted for stealing 1 painting and frame, value £l, the goods of John Annis; and that he had been before convicted of felony’. This previous conviction ‘for burglariously breaking and entering’ had happened in April 1844 and Philip had been sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, so his next act of stealing from John Annis can’t have come much after his release. Philip had only arrived in London with his wife (about whom we know nothing) in March 1843, he was probably stealing to feed his family. In the trial of 1846 we are told that ‘the prisoner being a foreigner had the evidence communicated to him by an interpreter.’ The Old Bailey transcript is short enough to quote in full:

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE . I am in the service of Mr. John Annis, a pawnbroker—he lost an oil painting on Wednesday, the 17th of Dec.—this is it—the prisoner had been in the shop five minutes before we missed it.

JOHN LINSCOTT. I am a pawnbroker, and live at No. 105, High-street, Whitechapel. On the 17th of Dec. this painting was pawned by the prisoner for 10s.—he called again two days afterwards, and offered to sell the duplicate—he was then given into custody. Prisoner. It is the truth, I went to sell the ticket and was put in charge.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. This is the painting—it is the property of Mr. John Annis—it was lost from his shop in the Minories, about a quarter past nine o’clock in the morning, and was pawned at Mr. Linscott’s between three and four that afternoon. Prisoner’s Defence. A person gave it me; I do not know him by name; if I should see the man I should know him; he was a countryman, he wanted me to pawn it, and he would give me 1s.; being a poor man I went to pawn it; he gave me a sixpence and left me the ticket; I was in the gentleman’s shop and left two gentlemen and one woman in the shop.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. He offered to pawn a clarionet—there was no other person in the part of the shop where he was—there were other persons, but there is a partition across the shop which parted them.

PATRICK MANNING (police-constable H 160.) I produce a certificate of the prisoner’s former conviction, which I got at this Court—(Read—Convicted on 8th of April. 1844, of burglary, and confined eighteen months)—the prisoner is the man.

GUILTY. Aged 33. — Transported for Ten Years.

Before Edward Bullock, Esq.

Prisoners' Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

Prisoners’ Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

So just like John nearly forty years previously, poor German immigrant Philip Wetzel had been sentenced to transportation to Australia. But unlike John, Philip never got a pardon. His trial and sentencing had taken place on 5 January, but by 4 March (no doubt after shorts stays in Newgate prison and on a prison hulk) Philip was on his way from Portsmouth via Rio de Janeiro to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on the convict ship Lady Palmyra to serve out his sentence.

What happened to Philip when he arrived in Hobart in August is a mystery. He is listed among the convicts arriving, but although his name is there, there is no physical description of him, as there was for all the other convicts. Nor is there any record of his ‘indentures’ or ‘conduct’ as there is for all the other convicts on board the Lady Palmyra. Had he died? Had he escaped? I don’t know, but whatever the case his lot was not that of John Annis whose goods he had stolen.

What might John Annis have thought when he heard of Philip’s transportation, a fate he himself had so narrowly avoided? Who knows?

For most of his life John carried on his pawnbroking business at 121 Minories, on Sparrow’s Corner in the City of London, near the Tower of London, an area now covered with office blocks but at the time full of warehouses serving the docks. His business had thrived because not only did he own his house/business premises in the Minories but also owned at least one more house at 11 Greek Street in Soho, where in the 1850s and 1860s his tenant was his pawnbroker son-in-law Robert Attenborough. Shortly before his death in 1866 John had moved from the City of London to the more upmarket and salubrious area of St. John’s Wood, where he died an ‘Esquire’ at 15 Blenheim Road, leaving an estate of ‘under £20,000’ – a fortune in those days.

I don’t have John’s will but I guess most of his wealth was left to his daughter Mary Ann Attenborough. The evidence seems to indicate that although John might have helped helped his son-in-law Robert Attenborough start in the pawnbroking business Robert already had enough connections to the pawnbroking world: his uncle Richard was already a London pawnbroker and two of his brothers became so too; they weren’t the only ones, pawnbroking runs through this whole Attenborough family.

Haydon Hill House

Haydon Hill House

In 1841, after his wedding and the birth of his first children, Robert had for a while returned to his native Northamptonshire to work as a ‘labourer’ on his father’s farm. But Robert and his family were soon back in London carrying on his pawnbroking and silversmithing business, first In Charlotte Street and then, as John Annis’s tenant, in Greek Street. They became rich and moved to a grand house at 56 Avenue Road on Regent’s Park, where they had governesses, footmen, cooks, parlour-maids and housemaids a plenty. When Robert Attenborough died in 1892 he left the sum of £74,255! His son Robert Percy had followed his father into the pawnbroking business and eventually lived in splendour at Haydon Hill House near Watford in Hertfordshire. Another son Walter Annis was a barrister and a third son, Stanley James, a solicitor.

All of Robert Attenborough’s and Mary Ann Annis’s children did well; they and their descendants became wealthy members of Britain’s commercial, legal and military elite. I wonder whether they knew (or know) that if John Annis had not been reprieved at the last moment and had been transported to Australia it all would never had happened? And as this is a Grisdale family blog, what if Captain William Grisdale had not recommended John Annis to act as Thomas Pugh’s shipping broker in 1808 – what then?

The transcript of John Annis’s Old Bailey trial on 18 February 1809.

Old Bailey in 1809

Old Bailey in 1809

JOHN ANNIS was indicted for a misdemeanor . The case was stated by Mr. Knapp.

THOMAS PUGH. I live on the Pavement, Moorfields, in the city of London.

Q. In the month of November last had you occasion to export any articles to Antigua in the West Indies – A. Yes; on board the Russia Company, captain Grisdale; I employed the defendant as my shipping broker , in consequence of the captain’s recommendation; this was about the 5th of November.

Q. Where did you give Annis instructions to enter your goods – A. At Lloyd’s coffee house.

Q. As shipping broker it would be his duty to make the entry of the goods – A. I understood so.

Q. Did you give him, at the time he made the entry, a list of the goods that he was to enter – A. Yes.

Q. Was that list that you so gave to the defendant copied from that I give to you – A. It was, with the exception of one article of forty pounds. (The paper read.)

COURT. How much do it make in all – A. Four hundred and forty pounds sixteen shillings.

Q. One article, 5 T H, the sum was not put down in the paper that you gave him – A. No, it was not. I said to him there were several articles in that trunk, he must put down what was necessary.

Q. Did he, from your dictation, put down the articles in that trunk – A. He did; I told him what value to put upon that trunk; forty pounds. Q. Therefore then it became a complete copy of this – A. Yes, it did.

Q. After you had given him these instructions did you yourself take the goods to the West India docks – A. I did; he said he would meet me there if he could. On Tuesday the 5th of November I took the goods; I did not find him there; I left the goods there.

Q. How soon after did you see him – A. I think, to the best of my recollection, I did not see him till Saturday the 12th, he came to me at my house in Moorfields, he came into the shop; he said he brought his little bill and put it down on the counter.

Q. Is that the bill which he brought to you – A. Yes, that is it. (The bill read.) “London, November 9th, 1808, Mr. Pugh to John Annis , nine shillings and six pence convoy duty on three hundred and thirty four pound; thirteen pounds eight shillings commission on three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings; and two pounds, making a total of fifteen pounds sixteen shillings and six pence; settled, John Annis .”

Q. At the time that he produced this to you did you make any observation of convoy duty three hundred and thirty four pounds sixteen shillings, and commission three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings – A. Yes, I did; he said the commission was always paid upon the whole sum, though the duty was not; the linen and cotton went free.

Q. Upon his stating this to you did you give him any money – A. Yes; I paid him the amount; I paid him eleven pounds in notes, four guineas and a half in gold, half a crown, and six pence; I believe I asked him where the paper was that I had given him to enter the goods by; he said he had mislaid it; I asked him if the business was done, and how it came to be so long before it was done, and whether they were put on board; he said no, they were not, but that they should be done, that he would go down to the docks that morning and get them on board.

COURT. Did he say the entry was made – A. He had charged the entry; he told me that the goods were not put on board, but he would take care and put them on board that morning; this was Saturday the 12th of November; I told him I wanted to see him again, and where I should see him; he said he would meet me at Lloyd’s that day at four o’clock; I met him that day at Lloyd’s, I asked him if the business was done; he said no, some part of them was opened; I said for God’s sake, for what reason; he told me to be quiet and easy and all would be well about them, that he should see me again on Monday, he would give me a better account of them. Mr. Gurney. Did anything then pass about the entry – A. No, nothing at all. On Monday the 14th of November we met again at Lloyd’s, I asked him if they were then put on board the ship: he said no, they were not, but that all but the linen were stopped and opened; I said it was very odd they should be opened, for what reason: he said be still and quiet, and if nothing was said to them it should all be right again; I told him I could not think of any reason why they should be stopped; he told me if I would be quiet he would put all to rights again.

Q. How soon did you meet him again – A. I saw him again at the custom house; I went down to the custom house and enquired about the goods; that was on Wednesday the 16th I saw him again.

Q. Did you find that your goods had been stopped – A. I found that they had been seized by the officer. Q. Was it stated in the prisoner’s presence on what ground they had been seized – A. No, I believe not.

MR. MILLER. Q. You are a collector of customs for the port of London; of the customs outward for the port of London – A. Yes.

Q. Do you remember the defendant, Annis, coming to make any entry of goods on the 11th of November last – A. No, I cannot; I have some hundreds come to me on a day.

Q. Look at this paper – A. This is my hand writing.

Q. You saw that signed – A. I dare say I did; I believe it to be signed in my presence.

Q. This is a declaration of the value of the goods for the purpose of exportation, for what purpose is that entry made – A. For the several duties; one in the middle is the convoy duty upon that entry; I cannot speak to that. Mr. Const. That is your hand writing, that is all you prove – A. Yes.

Q. When the defendant made an entry of this before you, he put the value of the goods, you put the charge from the value of the goods – A. Yes; the exporter makes it out and I sign it; that is my hand writing.

MRS. FAVEY. Q. Have you had any opportunity of knowing the defendant, Annis’s, hand writing – look at that and see whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I did not see him write it; I believe it to be his hand writing.

Q. Look at that and tell me also whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I believe that to be his hand writing.

Q. Now look at that, that is another paper, do you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I cannot say as to that; I do not think that to be his hand writing. (The receipt read.) “Russia Company, William Grisdale, Antigua, British bottom; John Annis; Irish linen, one hundred and twenty five pounds; two hundred weight of wrought iron, wearing apparel in packages, total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; I, John Annis, do declare that I enter the said goods, value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; witness my hand, John Annis; signed in the presence of J. Miller.”

JOSHUA STURTING CROSSLEY. Q. I believe you are one of the searchers of the customs for the port of London – A. I am.

Q. Is this the copy of the entry of these goods for Mr. Pugh, that was entered, shipped on board the Russia Company – A. It is. (The entry read.) Total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; signed John Annis.

JOHN DODSON. Q. Did you receive the convoy duty on these goods – A. I did. Q. That is at the rate of four per cent – A. It is.

Q. What is the sum received – A. Two pounds sixteen shillings as the duty upon the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings. Q. You received the money of whom – A. That I cannot tell. I signed the receipt at the time.

Q. Did you receive any other money upon these goods than that two pounds sixteen shillings – A. Not upon the account of these goods. Mr. Alley. What is the date of that – A. The 8th of November, 1808. The cotton went duty free. Mr. Const. What did this case contain – A. Wearing apparel and leather, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. Is there anything upon the face of that of three hundred and sixty four pounds eight shillings – A. Not at all. Mr. Gurney. Does that paper contain the marks of all the packages to be shipped on board – is there not the mark of every article – A. There is.

Q. The person that exports he declares the value so declared – A. He does, he pays upon the warrant; I have only received for the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings and no more.

Q. to Crossley. You told me before you were one of the searchers – A. I am.

Q. Did you search the goods that are contained in that declaration – A. I did.

Q. Marked in the described there – A. Justly so.

Q. Did you observe the sum in which they were entered – A. I did, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. In consequence of the smallness of that value did you open the goods – A. I did, and I found them to be of large value.

Q. What did you find the real value of these goods entered sixty nine pounds ten shillings – A. Perhaps three or four hundred pounds, or more; vastly exceeding the entry; I thereupon seized them.

Q. After you had so seized them did Mr. Annis come to you – A. He did, and his excuse was that in the hurry of business he had committed the error.

Q. You knew he was a person acting as a shipping broker – A. I never saw him before this transaction. Mrs. Favey. I believe you shipped some goods on board the Russia Company, and employed Annis to ship them as broker – A. Yes.

Q. I want to know whether the articles A. F. a trunk of ironmongery and sadlery were your property – A. That was my property; he entered it as ironmongery; they was shoes.

Q. Upon forty nine pounds ten shillings the duty would be two pounds would it – A. Yes.

Transported for Seven Years.

London jury, before Mr. Justice Heath.


When Wilfred Grisdale and his family arrived in Canada from Cumberland in 1816, they probably had no idea what the future would bring.[1] They just hoped for a better life. Over the years Wilfred’s children spread out from North Monaghan all over Canada and into the United States. Some helped build the first Welland canal and fought the Irish.[2] Others became farmers in Isabella County in Michigan.[3] Some worked on tug boats. Later several were to die fighting in the First World War.[4] A whole group of the family made their way from Canada to Bay City in Michigan in the second half of the 1860s. They were sawyers, loggers and ‘boom men’. Rather than tell their individual stories I would here just like to give an impression of the life and town they found in Bay City. Of course I have never been to Bay City (and only once to Michigan) and thus I’d like to acknowledge the work of many fine local historians for enabling me to give a flavour of what this Grisdale family probably  saw and experienced.

We are primarily concerned with the fifth child of Wilfred Grisdale and his wife Jane Bell: James Grisdale, who was born in 1812 in Carlisle in Cumberland and arrived in Canada aged about four.[5] Like some of his siblings James moved away from the woods of North Monaghan and Peterborough County to Thorold in Welland County, Ontario. Sometime around 1833/4 James married Jane Eliza Green, either in Fort Erie or Thorold. Children followed, born in Fort Erie and later, for sure, in Thorold. What James initially worked as we don’t know. His older brother Gideon had helped build the first Welland canal and later became a lock keeper on the canal.[6] Maybe James did this too. Whatever the case, by 1861 at the latest James was working as a sawyer in a sawmill In Thorold.

But in the 1860s America’s mid-west was witnessing a logging boom. One of its primary centres was Michigan and particularly the Saginaw Valley.

Michigan logging crew

Michigan logging crew

Geographic factors played an important part in the development of Michigan’s lumber industry. White pine, the wood most in demand for construction in the nineteenth century, grew in abundance in northern Michigan forests. The state was also crisscrossed by a network of rivers which provided convenient transportation for logs to the saw mills and lake ports.

By 1840 it was apparent that the traditional sources of white pine in Maine and New York would be unable to supply a growing demand for lumber. Michigan, the next state west in the northern pine belt, was the logical place to turn for more lumber. The first commercial logging ventures in the state utilized eastern techniques, capital, and labor, but Michigan lumbering soon expanded beyond the scope of anything previously known and established itself as one of the state’s most important industries…

The production of Michigan lumber increased dramatically during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The Saginaw Valley was the leading lumbering area between 1840 and 1860, when the number of mills in operation throughout the state doubled, and the value of their products increased from $1 million to $6 million annually. Rapid growth continued, and by 1869 the Saginaw Valley alone was earning $7 million yearly…

By 1869 Michigan was producing more lumber than any other state, a distinction it continued to hold for thirty years.[7]

Workers flooded into Michigan from all over the United States, from Canada, from Poland and from Germany and elsewhere.

In the second half of the 19th Century, Bay City was the lumber capital of the world. The booming lumber mills were providing Bay City with wealth and jobs and many people flocked to Bay City and West Bay City to make a living.[8]

James Grisdale and his family were one of these; they arrived in Bay City in 1865/6. With his experience in a sawmill in Thorold James no doubt expected to find similar work in Bay City, which he did. In 1870 he is working as a sawyer in a sawmill in the Portsmouth township of Bay City, living with his wife Jane and some of his children (Gideon, Anna and John) in a house worth $400. Some of his older children (David and Jane) had stayed behind in Canada, while sons James and William Champion had also, I believe, come to Bay City at the same time.


James was also joined by his older widowed brother Gideon (who married widow Hannah Raby in 1869 in Bay City and stayed a few years before returning to Welland in Canada), plus his younger brother Joseph with his family. In 1873 we find all these Grisdales living and working in Bay City. James was a ‘laborer’ probably still in a sawmill. His son William Champion Grisdale was a sawyer in the ‘Pitts and Cranage’ mill and living at Bay City’s first hotel, the Wolverton House, with his wife and two children. His newly married son Gideon was working as a ‘piler’, i.e. a pile driver, for ‘Watrous Brothers & Co.’. His son John was a labourer with ‘Richards, Miller & Co.’, as was his older brother Gideon, his younger brother Joseph and Joseph’s son, also called Joseph. A veritable Bay City Grisdale clan!

But what was the Bay City they had come to?

Bay City was a boomtown, with lumbering and sawmills bringing in fortunes. With the immediate prosperity came all the vices of human nature. Hells Half Mile included saloons, sporting houses, (places where gambling and prostitution co-existed), and variety theaters where bawdy performances were common. The area contained a network of underground passages that connected of the buildings leading to the nickname “catacombs” for the entire area. Often lumberjacks, who spent all of their money, could sleep in the passageways where the owners put down blankets and mats for 5 cents a night. [9]

Eddy Brothers sawmill, Bay City

Eddy Brothers sawmill, Bay City

But ‘jobs in the mills were dangerous, and before long small strikes started breaking out as laborers tried to improve their working conditions. Most of the strikes were short-lived and were failures. Then, in 1870, a more serious strike shut down production in a few mills, signifying that the workers were becoming restless and unified.’[10] James Grisdale and his family were no doubt either involved or at least witnesses to this strike.

The 1870 strike drifted into memory and still the mill workers were unsatisfied. Over the years their mood grew worse, fifteen years later a devastating strike would hit Bay City because labor issues had been ignored for so long.[11]

This was the famous Bay City strike of 1885.

When Bay City’s sawmills opened in 1885, mill owners notified workers that wages would be 12 to 25 percent lower than in 1884. On July 6, 1885, Bay City millhands began to walk off the job. Their slogan, “Ten Hours or No Sawdust,” represented the demand for a ten-hour day, higher wages and semi-monthly pay.[12]

But this is to run ahead of ourselves.

In 1907 Stewart Edward White published a wonderful book called The Blazed Trail, in Chapter 26 he tells us about Bay City ‘the Lumber Town’. I will quote him in full because I think it gives us a feel of what the Grisdales found in Bay City.


A Bay City saloon

A Bay City saloon

A lumbering town after the drive is a fearful thing. Men just off the river draw a deep breath, and plunge into the wildest reactionary dissipation. In droves they invade the cities, — wild, picturesque, lawless.

As long as the money lasts, they blow it in.

“Hot money!” is the cry. “She’s burnt holes in all my pockets already!” The saloons are full, the gambling houses overflow, all the places of amusement or crime run full blast. A chip rests lightly on everyone’s shoulder. Fights are as common as raspberries in August. Often one of these formidable men, his muscles toughened and quickened by the active, strenuous river work, will set out to “take the town apart.” For a time he leaves rack and ruin, black eyes and broken teeth behind him, until he meets a more redoubtable “knocker” and is pounded and kicked into unconsciousness.

Organized gangs go from house to house forcing the peaceful inmates to drink from their bottles. Others take possession of certain sections of the street and resist “a l’outrance” the attempts of others to pass. Inoffensive citizens are stood on their heads, or shaken upside down until the contents of their pockets rattle on the street. Parenthetically, these contents are invariably returned to their owners. The riverman’s object is fun, not robbery.

And if rip-roaring, swashbuckling, drunken glory is what he is after, he gets it. The only trouble is, that a whole winter’s hard work goes in two or three weeks. The only redeeming feature is, that he is never, in or out of his cups, afraid of anything that walks the earth.

Michigan loggers

Michigan loggers

A man comes out of the woods or off the drive with two or three hundred dollars, which he is only too anxious to throw away by the double handful. It follows naturally that a crew of sharpers are on hand to find out who gets it. They are a hard lot. Bold, unprincipled men, they too are afraid of nothing; not even a drunken lumber-jack, which is one of the dangerous wild animals of the American fauna. Their business is to relieve the man of his money as soon as possible. They are experts at their business.

The towns of Bay City and Saginaw alone in 1878 supported over fourteen hundred tough characters. Block after block was devoted entirely to saloons. In a radius of three hundred feet from the famous old Catacombs could be numbered forty saloons, where drinks were sold by from three to ten “pretty waiter girls.” When the boys struck town, the proprietors and waitresses stood in their doorways to welcome them.

“Why, Jack!” one would cry, “when did you drift in? Tickled to death to see you! Come in an’ have a drink. That your chum? Come in, old man, and have a drink. Never mind the pay; that’s all right.”

And after the first drink, Jack, of course, had to treat, and then the chum. Or if Jack resisted temptation and walked resolutely on, one of the girls would remark audibly to another. “He ain’t no lumber-jack! You can see that easy ’nuff! He’s jest off th’ hay-trail!”

Ten to one that brought him, for the woodsman is above all things proud and jealous of his craft. In the center of this whirlpool of iniquity stood the Catacombs as the hub from which lesser spokes in the wheel radiated. Any old logger of the Saginaw Valley can tell you of the Catacombs, just as any old logger of any other valley will tell you of the “Pen,” the “White Row,” the “Water Streets” of Alpena, Port Huron, Ludington, Muskegon, and a dozen other lumber towns.

The Catacombs was a three-story building. In the basement were vile, ill-smelling, ill-lighted dens, small, isolated, dangerous. The shanty boy with a small stake, far gone in drunkenness, there tasted the last drop of wickedness, and thence was flung unconscious and penniless on the streets. A trap-door directly into the river accommodated those who were inconsiderate enough to succumb under rough treatment.

The second story was given over to drinking. Polly Dickson there reigned supreme, an anomaly. She was as pretty and fresh and pure-looking as a child; and at the same time was one of the most ruthless and unscrupulous of the gang. She could at will exercise a fascination the more terrible in that it appealed at once to her victim’s nobler instincts of reverence, his capacity for what might be called aesthetic fascination, as well as his passions. When she finally held him, she crushed him as calmly as she would a fly.

Four bars supplied the drinkables. Dozens of “pretty waiter girls” served the customers. A force of professional fighters was maintained by the establishment to preserve that degree of peace which should look to the preservation of mirrors and glassware.

Bay City's Arlington Hotel opened in 1883

Bay City’s Arlington Hotel opened in 1883

The third story contained a dance hall and a theater. The character of both would better be left to the imagination. Night after night during the season, this den ran at top-steam. By midnight, when the orgy was at its height, the windows brilliantly illuminated, the various bursts of music, laughing, cursing, singing, shouting, fighting, breaking in turn or all together from its open windows, it was, as Jackson Hines once expressed it to me, like hell let out for noon.

The respectable elements of the towns were powerless. They could not control the elections. Their police would only have risked total annihilation by attempting a raid. At the first sign of trouble they walked straightly in the paths of their own affairs, awaiting the time soon to come when, his stake “blown-in,” the last bitter dregs of his pleasure gulped down, the shanty boy would again start for the woods..[13]

The main hub of all this revel was Water Street, known as Hell’s Half Mile. ‘It was a notorious strip for lumberjacks too let loose after many long months in the woods.’

Water Street, Bay City

Water Street, Bay City

After the spring thaw, shanty boys wandered out of the woods and hitched a ride to “Hell’s Half Mile,” along the river in Bay City. Thousands of dollars were made off these foolish shanty boys. Most of the locals condemned this “yearly torrent of wickedness.” Others took advantage of it, draining the men of most of the money that they had made over the winter.

It was not just saloons that raked in the benefits of this yearly onslaught of lumbermen. Dance halls, gambling dens, resorts and, of course, brothels tapped into their pockets.

Saloons even hired “runners” to entice the shanty boys to their businesses. There were plenty of saloons to choose from. In 1880, Bay City had a population of 27,000 with 162 saloons opened day and night in the city, and even 26 more on the other side of the river on the West Side. Water Street, “Hell’s Half Mile,” contained the raunchiest, most prostitute laden, and the most popular saloons in town.

Brothels also ran along the infamous Water Street. “Ma Smith” ran a home of 12 to 20 girls and even the town marshal in 1875 owned a brothel. Prostitution was legal during this time and saloon keepers, businessmen and law enforcement did little to regulate it because it was good for business, anything to get the $150-200 a shanty boy would bring into town.

How did “Hell’s Half Mile” get its name? History often focuses on the violence in the Wild West, but lumber towns were just as bad, if not worse. Bay City was notorious at the time for tolerance of and association with vice and violence, even the town marshal owned a brothel. Since it was the first stop on the railroad, the city got its fair share of shanty boys, even giving the city the nicknames “Tramp Heaven” or “Bum City.”

One thing that Bay City had that Western cities lacked was brawling. “Free fights” (for absolutely no reason whatsoever) were common between 20 to 30 men, often leading to serious injury and death. Bay City had less homicides than Western cities, just more fighting for no reason.

After the shanty boys ran out of money, things quieted down. They went to work in mills and farms over the summer, later to return for more fun the next year.[14]

Bay City sawmill

Bay City sawmill

Returning to the sawmill workers’ strike of 1885.

Less is known about the backgrounds of the men who labored in the sawmills in the late nineteenth century, but it is likely that they followed the same general pattern as the loggers. Like the men in the woods, mill hands worked long hours. They did not face the isolation of the logging camps, but their working and living conditions were often worse: noisy, dirty mills and dingy, cramped housing. Although mill workers received higher wages than loggers, from $30 to $50 per month, they had to provide their own room and board. They were also more likely to have families to support than were the loggers.

Like workers in other American industries, those employed in lumbering made attempts at organization during the decades following the Civil War. Union organization was most successful among the mill workers because they were concentrated in the towns. Prior to 1884 there were scattered unsuccessful strikes in Michigan mills. They did little to unite the workers but which effectively consolidated the mill owners against the workers.

The largest strike occurred in the Saginaw Valley in 1885. Mill hands demanded an immediate shift to a ten-hour day (which was due to occur soon anyway as the result of a recently enacted law) and more importantly, that the change not be accompanied by a reduction in pay. Within a month, in many mills in Saginaw and East Saginaw, the strike had been broken, but the workers in Bay City, the source of the strike movement, held out for another month. The mill hands had shown a willingness to cooperate in relieving some of the financial hardships caused by the strike; they were less successful in uniting to negotiate with the mill owners. Nor did this strike spur the growth of the labor movement. By the mid-1880s the forests of the Saginaw Valley were nearly exhausted, and as jobs became more difficult to find, disruptions became fewer.[15]

markerIn 1884, James Grisdale, the ‘head’ of the family, had died aged 72. His son William Champion Grisdale had worked for the Pitts and Cranage Mill in 1873, and was probably still there in 1880 when he was  a ‘sawyer’ in a sawmill. But William had moved on to other things by 1885, he became a wholesale fish merchant. Nevertheless, William would no doubt have watched the events of the strike unfold, including at his old employer Pitts & Cranage:

By the end of the first day the crowd had swelled to over four hundred men. They gathered at Madison Avenue Park to listen to several men who claimed leadership of the strike. One of them, D.C. Blinn would become the force behind the strike. He would be present at nearly all the major events and was constantly rallying his men. Blinn was a firebrand, the editor of a newspaper called the Labor Vindicator, and on that night he was calling for the men to shut down all of Bay City’s industries.

The crowd must have been energized, because the next day they used even more pressure. The workers at Pitts & Cranage had resisted them the day before, but now they stopped work and joined the ranks. As time went on the crowds became more aggressive and those still working began to worry about their safety. Many joined up, but later said they did so out of fear.[16]

So this was the life these Grisdales had come to in Michigan. Was it a better life than in Ontario or even Cumberland? Who knows? But at least it was a springboard for some of the family, as I will show at a later date. James’s son James, for example, eventually became a logging millionaire in Kitsap in Washington State. Of course all this logging, here as elsewhere in the United States, was just another case of freewheeling American capitalists coming into an area, stripping it of its resources (whether via mining or logging) and moving on, leaving behind an ecological disaster. But that is the story of America, as indeed it is of elsewhere in the world.

In their haste to move on to new cutting sites, loggers usually gave little thought to the lands they were leaving. By the 1870s stumps and branches already littered much of northern Michigan. There was no longer any barrier to erosion on cutover land, and the dried debris created an enormous fire hazard. At the end of the dry summer months fires frequently broke out, sometimes moving into still uncut timberlands or settled areas, as in 1871 and 1881, when fires broke out across the state. These dangerous conditions in the former logging districts inspired, in large part, the first attempts to conserve Michigan’s natural resources.

Lumber companies had no desire to own already logged parcels of land and thus found themselves trying to sell large tracts of land in the 1880s and 90s. They vigorously promoted the former forests as good farmland, ready for the plow, but experience soon proved that this was not the case. Most of the land simply could not support continuous farming, and its fertility was soon exhausted. Families that had put all their savings and hopes into such a farm often had no alternative but to give it up when they could not pay their taxes. Tax delinquent land as well as acreage simply abandoned by lumber companies was thus acquired by the State of Michigan, forming the basis for its early efforts toward reforestation and land management…[17]

Michigan logging camp

Michigan logging camp

Perhaps I should finish with the first two lines of one of the many sons the lumber workers of Michigan sang:

Come all you sons of freedom and listen to my theme. Come all you roving lumberjacks that run the Saginaw stream.[18]

And just by way of genealogical interest, in 1885 at exactly the time of the famous Bay City strike my great grandmother Agnes Grisdale, the granddaughter of William Grisdale the brother of the Canadian immigrant Wilfred, married my great grandfather Frederick Lewis in Southport, Lancashire.


Notes and references:







[7] Maria Quinlan, Lumbering in Michigan:,4570,7-153-54463_18670_18793-53133–,00.html

[8] Victor J. Mobley, BAY CITY’S LONG SUMMER: The Labor Strike of 1885, June 11. 2011:

[9]  Bay City History:

[10] Victor J. Mobley. BAY CITY’S LONG SUMMER: The Labor Strike of 1885, June 11. 2011.

[11] BAY CITY’S LONG SUMMER: The Labor Strike of 1885.

[12] Ten Hours or No Sawdust:


[14] Jana Irving, Hell’s Half Mile: Shanty Boys, Brothels and Geysers of Booze (2013):

[15] Lumbering in Michigan.

[16] BAY CITY’S LONG SUMMER: The Labor Strike of 1885

[17] Lumbering in Michigan.

[18] Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks, Library of Congress, Washington, 1960.

West Ham United is perhaps the most London of London’s football clubs. So how was it that the chairman of the club at the time of its move to Upton Park in 1904 was a Liverpudlian called Joseph Grisdale? And what did Joseph have in common with the club’s nickname of ‘The Hammers’?

Founded on Iron

Founded on Iron

Success in families ebbs and flows. Some improve their educational and financial position. Some, through ill luck or indolence, slip down the ladder. This is the story of one man who was on the up: Joseph Grisdale. Through hard work, and quite probably with a bit of luck as well, Joseph rose from his comparatively simple origins in Liverpool’s docklands to become Chairman of West Ham Football Club in London’s East End, before being able to retire in comfort to bucolic Hampshire.

Joseph was born in Liverpool’s docklands in 1857. He was the son of mariner Matthew Grisdale and his wife Sarah Tickle. Matthew was the grandson of another Matthew, a Lake District man who had made a fortune as a corn merchant in the late eighteenth century in the then thriving Cumberland port of Whitehaven. Matthew Senior’s son Thomas became a pawnbroker, first in Dublin and later in Liverpool. He died in Liverpool 1856.

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

Because of the family’s many maritime connections in both Whitehaven and Liverpool, Matthew Junior (i.e. Thomas’s son and Joseph’s father) became a mariner (Thomas’s first Dublin-born son Joseph became a China Tea Clipper Captain and died in Shanghai in 1859). When Matthew married Sarah in 1856, he is listed as a ‘mariner’ and when Joseph was born the next year he gave his occupation as a ‘ship’s steward’. By 1861 Matthew had, at least temporarily, left the sea and was working on land as a ‘labourer’ and living in Plumb Street Court. Ten years later, in 1871, he was an ‘engine driver’. Matthew probably alternated periods at sea with periods on land, because at the time of the births of some of his later children his occupation was once again given as ‘mariner’. It would be nice to know a little more about Matthew’s life, as when his son Joseph married in early 1878 Matthew was said to be a ‘Gentleman’, and when he died later in the same year he left the tidy sum of ‘under’ £3,000 in his will.

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Thames Ironworks Foundry

Let us return to the subject of this article, namely Matthew’s son Joseph. Somehow and somewhere both Joseph and (later) his younger brother Lowther were apprenticed as coppersmiths in the shipbuilding industry – probably in Liverpool. Joseph married mariner’s daughter Annie McKenzie in Everton in January 1871 when he was already a coppersmith. His younger brother Lowther would marry Annie’s sister Mary Elizabeth McKenzie in 1888 in London. Sometime after his father’s death, Joseph moved from Liverpool to West Ham in London’s East End. Somehow he had got work as a coppersmith in the massive Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Maybe someone from the yard had come to Liverpool looking for skilled men or perhaps Joseph had heard of the opportunities another way.

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding

Whatever the case, by 1881 Joseph was living with his wife Annie, daughter Frances and his mother-in-law Catherine McKenzie and her daughter Mary (Lowther’s future wife) at 14 Lennox Street in London’s grim but vibrant East End. Joseph and Annie were to have seven more children in London before Annie died in 1901; Joseph married again the next year. The family had moved to nearby Newman Street by 1891, then by 1901 to Barking Road – all places near Joseph’s workplace. By 1891 Joseph’s brother Lowther and his new family had joined Joseph in London and the two brothers and two sisters lived and worked together.

The Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company had been founded in 1837 and by the later 1800s ‘it was the largest shipbuilder on the Thames, its premises described by the Mechanics Magazine in 1861 as “Leviathan Workshops”’

HMS Sans Pareil - Ready for Launch

HMS Sans Pareil – Ready for Launch

During its existence, from its start in 1837 until competition from northern English shipyards forced its eventual closure in 1912, the yard built 144 warships and numerous other vessels. We can perhaps envisage the type of work Joseph had to do as a coppersmith if we think about all the copper pieces, boilers and pipes used in ships and ships’ engines at that time. Among the many ships Joseph undoubtedly helped to build was the HMS Sans Pareil, a 10,470 ton battleship launched in 1887.

Arnold Hills

Arnold Hills

From the later 1800s the yard’s ‘workforce was very much under the control of the managing director, Arnold Hills. His approach to industrial relations was that of the enlightened patriarch. He did not always agree with his employees, however, and his support for the firm’s right to employ non-union men was deeply unpopular’. There were strikes and Hills was ‘hissed’ by his own workmen as he entered the yard. He decided that better labour relations were needed and ‘in 1892 he put forward a ‘Good Fellowship scheme’ of bonuses on top of standard wage rates. Two years later a working day of eight hours rather than nine was introduced.’ This was at a time when 10 or even 12 hour days were the norm.

As well as promoting shorter working hours and profit-sharing, Hills encouraged his workers to become involved in the company sports and social activities. He spent a lot of time and money on the formation of works clubs of every kind. These included a temperance league, cycling club, cricket club and brass band.

And so we come to football. In 1895, at the instigation of Hills and foreman and referee Dave Taylor, a works’ football team was formed. The Thames Ironworks Gazette announced: ‘Mr. Taylor, who is working in the shipbuilding department, has undertaken to get up a football club for next winter and I learn that quoits and bowls will also be added to the attractions.’

Syd King, one of the first players and later a long-serving manager of West Ham, wrote about the formation of the club:

In the summer of 1895, when the clanging of “hammers” was heard on the banks of Father Thames and the great warships were rearing their heads above the Victoria Dock Road, a few enthusiasts, with the love of football within them, were talking about the grand old game and the formation of a club for the workers of the Thames Iron Works Limited. There were platers and riveters in the Limited who had chased the big ball in the north country. There were men among them who had learned to give the subtle pass and to urge the leather goal wards. No thought of professionalism, I may say, was ever contemplated by the founders. They meant to run their club on amateur lines and their first principal was to choose their team from men in the works.

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

Thames Ironworks Team 1895

‘The team played on a strictly amateur basis for 1895 at least, with a team featuring a number of works employees including Thomas Freeman (ships fireman), Walter Parks (clerk), Tom Mundy, Walter Tranter and James Lindsay (all boilermakers), William Chapman, George Sage, and William Chamberlain and apprentice riveter Charlie Dove.’

The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University “Blue”, but changed the following season by adopting the sky blue shirts and white shorts combination worn through 1897 to 1899. In 1899 they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time.

In 1900 Thames Ironworks F.C. was disbanded and was re-launched as West Ham United F.C.

Because of the original “works team” roots and links (still represented upon the club badge), they are still known to this day as ‘the Irons’ or ‘the Hammers’ amongst fans and the media.

Joseph Grisdale - Chairman

Joseph Grisdale – Chairman

Joseph Grisdale was probably too old to have played in the works’ team, even if he might have been one of those who Syd King said ‘had chased the big ball in the north country’. But he was no doubt involved in some way because in 1901, when the team was still playing matches at the Memorial Ground in Plaistow, Joseph was made a Director of the club. When West Ham United moved to Upton Park in 1904, Joseph became Chairman of the club, a position he would hold until 1909.

As mentioned, West Ham United F.C. got its name The Hammers due to its origins in shipbuilding. Many of the early players were ‘metal-bashers’, as was Joseph the coppersmith.

Perhaps Joseph was better rewarded for his chairmanship of West Ham than he was for his work in the shipbuilding yard? Whatever the case, he obviously did make a little money as by 1911 he was able to move the family to the slightly leafier London suburb of Woodford Green where he became a self employed ship repairer and an ‘employer’. Perhaps he had been laid off before the demise of the Thames Ironworks yard?

Sarisbury, Hampshire

Sarisbury, Hampshire

It could be that Joseph continued to work as a coppersmith and a ship repairer during the First World War (there was certainly a demand for his skills), but what we know for certain is that sometime before 1921 he had been able to retire with his family to the pretty rural location of Holly Nook in Sarisbury in bucolic Hampshire. Certainly and literally a breath of fresh air! He died there in June 1921 leaving £7,490 in his will.