Posts Tagged ‘Pawnbroking’

“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.

 

In the nineteenth century enormous numbers of British people left to try to find a better life overseas. Most went to Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia. Some prospered, some didn’t. One who did was William Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver who took his family to Sydney in 1842 when William was just seven. Starting as a bootmaker and pawnbroker William was to become a successful businessman and stood for the New South Wales Parliament. This is his story.

Sydney Cove 1842

Sydney Cove 1842

The Sydney that greeted Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale and his family when they arrived on the ship Agnes on 15 February 1842 wasn’t the huge, sophisticated and cosmopolitan place we know today.  Even the official History of Sydney City Council describes it thus:

The ‘City of Sydney’ of 1842 was little more than an unruly village of dusty poorly lit lanes and unhygienic dwellings. There was no water or sanitation system. Cattle were routinely driven through the streets.

We don’t know the precise reasons why the Grisdale family decided to leave Bolton and make the long and arduous trip to Australia, although getting out of the Lancashire cotton mills would have been a ‘push’ enough in itself. It’s possible that Ann’s older brother Thomas Rostron had something to do with it. Thomas Rostron, his wife Alice and their daughter Mary had sailed from Liverpool on 14 September 1840, aboard the ship Brothers. They arrived at Port Jackson on 11 March 1841. Thomas was a bricklayer and publican but for a year “was employed by Mr. A. B. Smith of Smith’s Rivulet, Gammon Plains near Merriwa, New South Wales”. Maybe he had encouraged his sister to come to Australia as well and maybe he had even found them a sponsor?

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Sydney wasn’t a place that had much use for the cotton weaving skills that John Grisdale would have learnt in the dark satanic mills back in Lancashire. In fact, on the passenger list of the ship bringing the family as ‘assisted immigrants’ to Australia he listed his trade as ‘labourer’. He had undoubtedly said much the same on his application for assistance to emigrate. So he, and later his two sons, William and Levi, would have to turn their hands to whatever they could if they were to survive and even prosper. This, as we shall see, they did.

Before I tell the family’s story in Australia, let me first place them in England.

John Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in August 1809. He was the fourth child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Shaw. On 28 December 1832, John married Ann Rostron in Bolton. Two living children followed: William, born in 1834, and Levi, born in 1837. Two other sons, both named Thomas, died in infancy. In 1841, John was living with his family in Bradshawgate, Bolton, surrounded by cotton mills.

John’s father Robert Grisdale (1775-1840) was the son of Joseph Grisdale and his wife Ann Temple, who lived in Dockray in Matterdale, Cumberland. Yes of course it all goes back to Matterdale! Some of Robert’s siblings and relations were to venture all over the world. His brother Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His brother George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. The son of Robert’s brother Thomas was called Doctor Grisdale and he went to the Pennsylvania cotton mills, his family eventually ending up in Oregon. This Thomas was also the father of John Grisdale whose two sons, John and Jonathan, also went to Pennsylvania to work in the cotton mills there. Another of Thomas’s sons, also called Thomas, went via India to Melbourne in Australia where he became a ‘coal lumper’ in the docks. And finally, Robert’s son Robert by his second wife Hannah Bolton was to have a son called John who became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop! I hope you’re not getting lost? I think I am.

Little could Joseph and Ann Grisdale of Matterdale have known that so many of their descendants would spread out all over the world! Of course the majority would remain in England, many in Cumberland and Bolton, and their lives and struggles were no less courageous and worthy of attention than those of those who ventured overseas.

221 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

121 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

But let’s return to our John Grisdale. John and his family’s passage had been paid for or sponsored by Mr. G. Townsend, a farmer in Patterson. It’s possible, though not certain, that the family spent their first couple of years in Australia helping on his farm. The first thing we know for sure about them is that they were soon living at 121 Sussex Street in Sydney and John had a pawnbroking and auctioneering business – we know he also worked as a bootmaker. But John wasn’t averse to the main chance and in the early 1850s there was a gold rush in New South Wales as well as in Victoria. Was John tempted to try his luck? It seems he was.  There is an account of a trial in Sydney in September 1851 in which we hear for the first time a little of the Grisdale family’s life:

Stealing a shawl – On Monday, a woman named Catherine Lawler was placed at the bar, charged with having forcibly stolen a shawl, from the person of Mary Gorman, in the public streets on Thursday last. According to the desposition of the prosecutrix, it appeared that on the day in question, the prisoner snatched the shawl, valued at ten shillings, from her shoulders, and threw it on the ground and trampled upon it. Prisoner subsequently took it into her own house, and it was discovered to have been pledged at a pawnbroker’s named Grisdale, in Sussex-street, by a woman named Williams, a friend of the prisoner’s. The prisoner was remanded until yesterday for the evidence of the pawnbroker, when she was again placed at the bar, and, the Police Magistrate enquiring if the pawnbroker was in attendance, a smart, dapper little lad, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, made his debut in the witness-box, when the following dialogue ensued – Police Magistrate -“-Why, you are not, a pawnbroker?” Witness – ” No; but Pa is though.” P.M. – “What is your name, and where is your father?” Witness – “My name is William Grisdale, and Pa is gone to the diggings, and I am carrying on his business.” The witness, being sworn, deposed that the shawl produced was pawned on Friday Iast, for one shilling, by a woman named Williams. The duplicate was produced, and appeared to be improperly written, Mr., instead of Mrs. Williams, being represented as the person to whom the loan had been made. The Police Magistrate directed the attention of Mr. Inspector Wearing to the duplicate, by which the pawnbroker was liable to have an information filed against him, for a breach of the Licensed Pawnbrokers’ Act, his Worship remarking, that if the pawnbrokers thought proper to go to the mines, they ought at least to leave proper persons to transact their business.

New South Wales Gold Diggers

New South Wales Gold Diggers

Gold had been discovered in New South Wales before but only in 1851 did the finds become public knowledge. One historian of the Gold Rush tells us:

The first widely known and officially acknowledged gold find was made by John Lister and William Tom at Ophir in April 1851… The find was proclaimed on 14 May 1851 starting Australia’s first gold rush. Gold was subsequently found in 1851 in the Bathurst-Orange area at Hill End-Tambaroora, Hargraves, Lucknow, Sofala-Turon and Tuena. Further afield, major gold finds were made in the 1850s at Araluen and Majors Creek near Braidwood, at Adelong, and at Hanging Rock near Nundle.

The gold rushes caused many social and economic problems. Bathurst was practically abandoned by able workers during the Ophir rush, while riots broke out on the Turon in 1853 and again at Lambing Flat in 1860-61. Food and common necessities became scarce and expensive with many merchants making more money than the majority of the diggers. In an effort to gain some control on the Government unsuccessfully banned the sale of alcohol. The era became known as ‘the Roaring Days’.

John certainly didn’t stay away too long digging for gold and he certainly didn’t strike it rich. The years passed and then a funny thing happened. It seems John, and probably his wife Ann too, decided to return to England. This probably happened in the late 1850s. But why? Why go back to the squalor and exploitation of the Bolton mills? For that is what John did. We don’t know. All we do know is that by 1861 John was back in Shaw Street, Bolton, living with his brother Thomas and sister Elizabeth Ruffley (nee Grisdale), and working once again as a weaver. He was by this time widowed. Where and when and how his wife Ann had died is unknown. John remained in Bolton for nine more years. In 1861 his next door but one neighbour in Shaw Street was a certain charwoman called Ellen Hendry (nee Goth). When Ellen’s husband Richard Hendry died in April 1861 she and John Grisdale soon married – in 1862. 61 year old Ellen Grisdale was to die of ‘cardiac disease’ on 13 July 1869 at the couple’s new home at 25 Back Defence Street, just around the corner from Shaw Street. News of Ellen’s death somehow reached Sydney and this rather perplexing notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 October 1869:

DEATHS. At her residence, Back Defence-street, Bolton, Lancashire, England, ELLEN, the beloved wife of JOHN GRISDALE, formerly of Sydney, and mother of William and Levy Grisdale, auctioneers, of Pitt-street.

Who had supplied this information to the newspaper? What sort of confusion or dissimilation was at play? Because of course Ellen was not William and Levi’s mother. That was Ann Rostron, and she had died somewhere in the world years earlier. Perhaps this is a mystery we will never solve.

SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

With nothing now to keep him in Bolton, John wasted no time in returning to his now married sons in Sydney. He arrived in Melbourne from Liverpool on the famous ship S S Great Britain – the largest and most advanced ship in the world – on 5 December 1870. He quickly boarded another ship, the Alexandra, and reached Sydney on 9 December 1870. Enough of cotton weaving; John could now live out the rest of his days with his increasingly prosperous sons and their families. John was to live to the age of 88. He died on 1 September 1897 at 32 Mount Street, Pyrmont, NSW.

But what of John’s sons: William and Levi? William, the “smart, dapper little lad” of 1851, had married Catherine Craig on 26 February 1856 in Sydney. Descendants believe that his father John was present at the marriage – before his return to Bolton. Three daughters were to follow: Ann Jane (1857), Agnes (1859) and Louisa (1861). Levi married Catherine McFarlane in Sydney in 1869, a year before father John’s return. Levi and Catherine had four children: Charles John (1870), Arnold Levi (1871), William McFarlane (1874) and Catherine (1876).

When John had gone back to England it seems that his son William took over his pawnbroking and auctioneering business. But in earlier years he had also worked, like his father John, as ‘writing clerk’ and bootmaker. He advertised regularly in Sydney for his boot and shoe business. Here is one such advert from December 1859, when William was just 25:

WANTED to be known that W. GRISDALE is selling every description of BOOTS and SHOES cheaper than any other house in Sydney. Storekeepers, and heads of families would do well to give a call before they make their CHRISTMAS PURCHASES, as they can be supplied with every article in the trade very cheap. One trial will prove the fact. Remember the address, W. GRISDALE, No. ll. New Market buildings, George-street, the last shop but one.

Throughout these early years, the family lived at 57 Gloucester Street in Sydney. Sadly, on a personal level, tragedy was soon to strike. William’s wife Catherine died on 26 May 1864 – aged just 32. William was to remarry in 1868. His new wife was Georgina Bartley (nee Ternouth), a widow with two sons and one daughter. They were to have seven children together, first in Sydney and later in Newcastle: Emily (1869), Alice Maud (1870), Georgina (1873), Ada Maud (1875), William Alfred (1876), George Arthur (1878) and Henry James (1880). In his last years in Sydney, William lived and carried on his business in Pitt Street.

William Grisdale

William Grisdale

During his years as a Sydney auctioneer and pawnbroker life wasn’t always plain sailing for William. We know from various court records and newspaper reports that he went bankrupt twice. But being a good Lancashire lad he always bounced back.

William had gone into partnership in his auctioneering business with John Proctor Lister; the firm was called Lister and Grisdale. In early 1872, the murders of two men occurred at Parramatta River. The bodies were found dumped in the river, weighed down with stones and scalped. Before the culprits – Nichols and Lester – were tried, a newspaper wrote breathlessly:

During the four weeks just past, we have to use the words of Macbeth, “supped full with horrors.” While we were all at our usual avocations, trafficking, haggling, boasting, eating, drinking, and sleeping, two at least, of the most diabolical murders on record, were committed at our very doors. Murders, moreover, betraying, as a thoughtful contemporary points out, some recognition of physical science; a thorough deliberation of plan; a mechanical impassibility of purpose; and an utter oblivion of the chances, or a carelessness as to the consequences, of detection. When it is added that the apparent motive for their commission appears to have been cupidity—cupidity, too, of the meanest kind—the almost unparalleled wickedness of the murders is at once seen in all its hideous nakedness.

What was William Grisdale’s involvement?  Well it seems that Lister and Grisdale had been asked by the police to keep their eyes open for the suspects, perhaps they would try to sell the murdered men’s goods, and when they did come into their auction house the partners informed the police. William himself stated in the trial:

They came in a spring cart with a three-bushel bag with clothes in, a blanket, and a horse-hair bag, also two pair of boots which were in the bag.

When they returned to collect the proceeds of the sale, they were arrested. Nichols and Lester were “hung at Darlinghurst Gaol in front of a very large audience”. Just a normal day in the rough and tumble of colonial Sydney!

Ships in Newcastle NSW

Ships in Newcastle NSW

In 1873 William decided to move up the coast to the growing port of Newcastle, New South Wales. It seems his auctioneering business flourished there. He got involved in local politics and “on three occasions he was elected as an Alderman of Newcastle City Council, representing Honeysuckle Ward”. Here is just one example of the things William got involved in; it is a letter written to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in August 1880. I quote it in full because not only does it tell us something about William but also a little of the life and commerce in Newcastle at the time. It is titled Newcastle and the Government:

Sir, I was rather surprised at Mr. W. Gilroy’s letter, in your paper on the 25th ultimo, with reference to the great indulgences that Newcastle has received from the Government. I think I shall be able to show Mr. Gilroy the very reverse and that Newcastle has never received anything not absolutely necessary and required. I am willing to admit that the Government have built a magnificent wharf at Newcastle, and also at Bullock Island, and put a substantial engine-house and hydraulic-power engines and cranes at the latter place; but at the same time I can prove that they receive a larger percentage from them than they do for any other work they have in the colony.

It is a fact beyond doubt that the Government charges four times the amount for haulage and shipping of coal that it costs the coal companies that ship at their own wharfs. The Government charge 10d per ton for haulage and shipping if the coal has not to be taken more than half-a-mile. The Waratah Company, and J. and A. Brown, can do the same over a distance of six miles, pay all expenses, and allow for wear and tear, at a cost of under 21/2d. per ton. If the Government have made the improvements, they make the shippers pay pretty well for it. I wish to know in what way we are like spoiled children? I think the reverse. If Mr. Gilroy will see the difference between the prices charged by the too indulgent Government and those that are the actual costs by private firms, and also know that an average of 20,000 tons of coal is shipped weekly here, he will see that we pay pretty well for any little improvement we got. I am sure there is no one would grumble at a legitimate wharfage rate, but not such a rate us the one now in force; it might do very well for Sydney, where there are so many private wharfs that the rates will not be collected. And it certainly seems very strange to me that the present law is six months’ old but was never put into force until the Grafton Wharf changed hands, and I do not think the rates will be collected there.

I am sure that the coal interest pays the Government the best interest they receive in the colony. It is acknowledged by the present Government that our railways within a radius of twelve miles of the port, are the best paying of any in New South Wales – the other indulgences that Mr. Gilroy speaks of. I should like him to come up here and see our grand public buildings, which are a disgrace to any city, and still we are getting everything done for us. There is one thing very certain, that until we get some of the Sydney influences, so that we shall be able to have direct imports and exports, we shall always be looked upon as black sheep. It is a well-known fact that Newcastle is the depot for the reception of the produce of the Northern district, and 100,000 bales of wool are grown and sent down annually. It is only right we should be in a position to ship it direct from here, but you will see the disadvantages the Northern squatter has to any other. Every bale of wool has to be sent to Sydney, and what with freights and other charges it costs the squatters £25,000 per annum, that ought to be left, or most of it, in this city.

A short time ago a firm here applied to this too-indulgent Government for the lease for twenty-one years of a piece of land to erect a wool store, which would cost the firm about £4000 to erect. They were told that they could have a lease for five years, which was very naturally rejected, and it was impossible to purchase at any price; so you see there is more Sydney influence. If we could ship our own wool, tallow, copper, tin, hides, &c, it would ¡materially interfere with your Sydney merchants, and that is the reason they are trying to do all they can to stop every industry. But the time will come yet. It is only a short time since this indulgent Government tried to impose the wool and coal taxes. Everybody knows the fate of them; and now they are trying to do something worse by the wharfage rates, for this is threepence per ton for receiving, and sixpence per ton for delivering, if you use the Government wharfs; and we have no other here, except the A. A. Company’s. I have always thought that ours was a Free-trade Government, but this tariff is protection in its very worst form; we should be better off with an ad valorem duty, and then all would pay alike, and not cripple any single industry. Trusting I have not taken up too much of your valuable space. I am, &c,

William Grisdale. Newcastle. August 26.

Besides William’s genuine interest in the welfare of his town of Newcastle, I think one can surmise two things from this letter. First, his own involvement in the shipping and trading to which he refers and, second, his growing involvement in politics. With regard to the former, William had used his success as an auctioneer to move into shipping. He had at least two ships.

In 1875 he ordered a 27 ton 17 metre ketch from the Newcastle shipbuilder Peter Callen. Its name was Colleen Bawn. But shipping was dangerous:

On 4 December 1877, the Colleen Bawn (Capt. Glendenning) was on voyage from Port Stephens to Sydney with a cargo of timber and 1 passenger and a crew of 3, when she foundered (no known reason) off between Port Stephens and Sydney. All 4 died.

In 1877 William and two partners, Benjamin Lloyd and Ed Davies, commissioned the ship-building firm of William McPherson at Williams River, Eagleton, near Newcastle, to build a 38 ton, 23 metre ketch, which they christened Agnes – no doubt after the ship in which William and his family had arrived in 1842. The Agnes was wrecked in 1883 when it foundered off Jervis Bay, New South Wales.

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Regarding politics; as well as being an alderman, in 1882 William stood for the provincial New South Wales Parliament as a candidate in the Northumberland ward. Lyn Vincent, one of William’s descendants, writes:

After a bitterly fought campaign on the part of his opponent Mr. Hungerford a squatter, he was defeated. The newspaper reports of the day tell us that he was most brave and gallant in defeat. He was what today we would call “a good sport”.

What I particularly savour is a newspaper report of a nomination meeting and debate which took place in Newcastle in early 1882:

At the nomination for the Northumberland electorale… Mr Hungerford and Mr Grisdale were duly proposed. The former is a squatter, and well-known as an old member of Parliament. His opponent is new to politics, and is a pawnbroker, auctioneer, etc. During the speech of the latter – Mr Grisdale – a good deal of fun was caused by some of his remarks, and it is just worth quoting two passages from his oration. Being a money lender, the livening effect of the following parry may be understood: – He (Mr Grisdale) was in favour of the railways going the whole length of the Colony. – A Voice: “What for; to fetch the rags down?” – He did not think he would be able to lend much on the rags of the last speaker. Further on an elector asked: “Would you be in favour of an absentee or a property tax?” – Mr Grisdale: “I would tax them both.” (Laughter) – But the climax was reached when the orator was about finishing, when an elector asked: “Would you vote for taxing cereals coming into this country? – Mr Grisdale: “I am in favour of putting a tax on Chinamen, and always was.” (Roars of laughter). The elector: “I didn’t say Chinese; I said cereals.” – Mr Grisdale: “Who are they?” – (Renewed laughter and general confusion) – The question having been explained, Mr Grisdale said he would let flour come in as free as possible.

A real touch of the Lancastrian turned Australian I think. Lyn Vincent writes:

Unfortunately not many days after this (election) defeat, William became ill while on business in the “Metropolis” (Sydney). After resting in Sydney for a few days he returned to Newcastle only to have to take to his bed from which he never rose again. He died on 13 February 1882, two days short of being in the colony for 40 years…  Obituaries and testimonials of the day give a glowing report of a man who was not only a great loss to his beloved wife and twelve children, but also to his many friends and acquaintances in Newcastle and Sydney.

I quote part of just one such obituary:

Our readers will learn with regret that the hopes entertained of the recovery of our late esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. W. Grisdale, have proved futile, that gentleman having died of congestion of the brain last evening, at ten minutes to seven. Alderman Grisdale’s decease, although not unexpected, has produced a painful depression throughout the large and varied circle in which he moved… After various successful business enterprises in the metropolis, he arrived in Newcastle in 1874, and commenced business as an auctioneer and estate agent, in which he was remarkably successful. He had been one of the aldermen for Honeysuckle ward for two years, was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and an active officer of the Newcastle Jockey Club. Mr. Grisdale also had a very active interest in all matters relative to the public good and the welfare of the city…

Mr. Grisdale has left behind him an unsullied name, which will be held in sad remembrance by a very numerous circle of friends.

William Grisdale, son of a Bolton cotton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales, is buried in the Sandgate Cemetery (Methodist Section) in Newcastle with his wife Georgina and his step-daughter, Mary Bartley.

What a remarkable life! It makes most of our’s look positively dull.

There is a little mystery about William Grisdale, told to me by his Australian descendants. Was there a Jewish connection? Supposedly William’s grandson – in – law Benjamin Manning used to look up at William’s picture on the wall and comment: “Look at old Reuben looking down on us”. There was other family talk as well about William having a Jewish connection. Was this just due to his brother’s name Levi? Such names were common in the Grisdale family and elsewhere – they were biblical Old Testament names. Was it because he was a ‘money-lender’? Was there a Jewish connection from his mother’s or grandmother’s side?  As far as I know the Grisdales were all straight forward Anglican Christians – though some became Methodists – so if there is a Jewish connection I don’t know what it is? Maybe you do?