Henry Phillips (1829-1884) and Margaret Thomson (neé Stobo) (1852-1892) and the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institution
Henry Phillips was the son of William Phillips and Sophia (nee Yates) who were both transported to Australia for fourteen years for “Having & Forged Banknotes.” Both arrived in the colony of NSW in 1820, but William came on the Coromandel whereas Sophia came on the Janus with their seven children aged between 2 and 16 years (including some from William’s previous marriage). Sophia was then assigned to William as a convict, and they recommenced family life in the colony. He was granted a ticket of leave in 1821 and a conditional pardon in 1827 on the recommendation of Chief Justice Forbes, his wife Mrs Forbes, and Judge Stephen. That William received such support from these prominent and respected citizens, especially from Mrs Forbes, is remarkable. Somehow, he must have come into sufficient contact with them that they could form the view that he was worthy of a pardon. A further nine children were born to Sophia and William with Henry being born on 17 July 1829 and dying on 13 March 1884 during a severe outbreak of typhoid fever in Sydney.
Margaret Thomson Stobo (known as ‘Maggie’) was aged 19 when she married Henry, aged 42, on 7 June 1871 at St James, King Street, Sydney. Maggie was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1852 and was part of a large family; she died in 1892.  She came to NSW in 1854 with her mother Mary in order to join her father, Captain Robert Stobo. Stobo was the Captain of an Illawarra Steam Navigation company (ISN) steamer William IV and he later became the ISN agent and harbour master at Kiama, NSW. Together Maggie and Henry had six children: Halcyon Mary Spears (1872-1873), Henry Stobo (1873-1897), Beatrice Sophia Yates (1876-1933), Robert Stobo (1878-1890), Irene Victoria (1880-1972) and Frederick Stobo (1884-1916), born shortly before his father’s death.
The Phillips family had a long association with St James King Street, maintaining a family pew there from 1833 until at least 1861 which, considering William only received a conditional pardon in 1827, is remarkable. William’s funeral in 1860 was organised by Charles Beaver ‘undertaker, St James’ Church’ and in 1871, Henry was married there by Canon Allwood. Henry did more than occupy pew No 86 at St James, however, for around 1846 and aged 17, he began to teach Sunday School, eventually becoming the Sunday School Superintendent. He took an active interest in Sunday Schools through his active participation in the Church of England Sunday School Institute. At one Institute meeting, he advised his fellow teachers that ‘he found it a good plan of keeping up attention was to have the children ranged around him, and set them to find passages of Scripture’. He also pointed out the ‘several advantages that arose from the teacher visiting at the residences of the children’ who were attending the Sunday School’. In addition, he suggested that ‘every member of the church might be serviceable in the cause of the Sunday-schools even though they were not mentally capacitated for being teachers.’ They might, he said, ‘inform the people in their neighbourhoods that a Sunday-school existed in the parish and urge the people to send their children there.’
John Smith (1821-1885), foundation professor of chemistry and experimental physics at the University of Sydney, was born on 12 December, 1821, at Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the son of Roderick Smith, blacksmith, and his wife Margaret, née Shier. From 1839 he studied at the Marischal College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1843; M.D., 1844). Smith arrived in Sydney on 8 September, 1852, on the Australian.
There is a good deal of information available on Smith, but little work has been done on his philanthropic and religious views. An article from Sydney University, which understandably concentrates on his scientific work, briefly mentions his philanthropic interests but omits to make any mention at all of his religious commitments which were also an important feature of his life.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography says of his religious views that ‘In the 1860s Smith served on the committees of several religious organizations’, by which is meant Christian organisations, and that
In January 1882 he had called at Bombay and joined the Indian section of the Theosophical Society, having been influenced by his wife’s spiritualism and the lectures of the theosophist Emma Hardinge Britten in Australia in 1878-79. In Europe in 1882-83 he experimented with the occult.
This article’s religious emphasis falls on the last five years of Smith’s 63-year life and has little to say about his religious commitments during the previous 58 years. This is reflective of Jill Roe’s work which is mainly concerned with Smith’s interest in Theosophy and, while not said overtly, she seems to want to paint Smith as a theological progressive moving from the strictures of a doctrinal Presbyterianism to Theosophy. For Roe, Smith’s encounter with Theosophy was about ‘religious progress’ and the ‘maintenance of true religion’.
The usual paradigm for recruits to spiritualism was one of a theological ‘progress’ which moved from a nineteenth-century disillusionment with the revelation-based approach of Christianity to the intuitive approach to religious knowledge of theosophy. The disillusionment with revelation was rooted in an uncertainty about the Bible, fed by the rise of biblical criticism, the theory of evolution and an increased moral sensitivity repulsed by various biblical events. The problem with this hinted assessment of Smith is that while there is clear evidence of his interest in theosophy there is no evidence to support a disillusionment in his Christian thought, a point which Roe concedes. Roe equates Smith’s interest in theosophy with a desire for ‘religious progress’, but it could equally be a case of intellectual curiosity. For a Professor of Physics, the role and reputed powers of the masters in theosophy would raise serious questions about the nature of matter and spirit. Perhaps it is from a desire for ‘scientific progress’ rather than ‘religious progress’ that Smith’s chief motivation to understand spiritualism arose. That is not to say that Smith had no interest in what Theosophy might have to say about spiritual matters. Rather, it might be better to see Smith as, to use Malcolm Prentis’ expression, a ‘dabbler’ in Theosophy rather than a devotee. This article seeks to examine such a possibility. (more…)
William Briggs (1828 – 1910) and Charlotte Sarah neé Nicholson (1820-1879) Maitland Benevolent Society
William Briggs was born in 1828 in London, England, the third and youngest son of Thomas Briggs, a highly successful dressing case maker and general fine goods retailer of 27 Piccadilly, London, and Elizabeth Nicholson. It appears that the success of Thomas in business permitted his son to be apprenticed as an attorney. William would have served at least five years as an articled clerk in a law office, possibly Seymour Chambers, Duke Street, Adelphi (St James’). In 1853, he married his cousin Charlotte Sarah d’Argeavel neé Nicholson (1820-1879), the daughter of Robert Dring Nicholson, a soldier, and Anne Elizabeth Perry. Charlotte was purported to be the widow of Vicomte Alexandre Eugene Gabriel d’Argeavel. When six months pregnant, Charlotte married the Vicomte in Boulogne, France, in October 1839 and she bore him three children: Alice (1840-1876), Eugenie (1842-1913) and Robert (1844-1913). In 1845, the viscountess separated from her husband and she and her children went to live with her parents in Jersey.
In 1852, Charlotte said she ‘observed in the papers an announcement of the death of her husband (who did not in fact die until 1877)’ and on July 4, 1853, she went through a marriage ceremony with William. What is omitted from this account is that prior to this bigamous marriage a daughter Amy (1852-1919) was born to William and Charlotte in April of 1852. On July 28, 1853, two weeks after their ‘marriage’, William and Charlotte, with their children and Charlotte’s mother Anne Nicholson, boarded the Windsor and sailed to the colony of NSW arriving in Sydney on November 2, 1853. Why they decided to come to NSW is unknown, but perhaps they considered it prudent to remove themselves to a sphere where their past history was not known.
William applied for admission as a solicitor and proctor of the Supreme Court of NSW and was admitted on December 31, 1853, and commenced work as a solicitor in West Maitland in February of 1854. In 1855, he was appointed clerk of petty sessions for the police district of Maitland. During their time in Maitland, Charlotte gave birth to four sons: William (1854-1910), Hugh (1856-1929), Neville (1859-1859) and Alfred (1861-1933). Charlotte died in the February of 1879 and later that year, in November, William married Elizabeth Rourke (1837-1918), a family friend and co-worker with Charlotte in charitable work.
Maitland Benevolent Society
In 1885, some five years after Charlotte’s death and William’s marriage to Elizabeth, the Briggs left West Maitland and moved to Sydney. Upon the Briggs’ departure, the Committee of the Maitland Benevolent Society (MBS) expressed their
regret to record the loss (by removal to Sydney) of the valuable services of their late respected and energetic secretary Mr William Briggs, whose deep interest in the affairs of the Society, together with those of his estimable wife, from its very formation, contributed in a very great degree to raise it to its present important position. (more…)
John Thomas Neale died in Sydney in 1897 leaving an estate valued for probate at £804,945 ($12.2m current value) and in his will he made significant bequests to his wife Hannah as well as to family members and others. He also left some £18,500 ($2.8m current value) to various charitable organisations. As significant as these charitable bequests were, they were far exceeded by those made by his wife. Some 14 years after John’s death, Hannah died with an estate valued for probate at £758,997 ($13.9m current value) and she left some £47,500 ($5.7m current value) to various charities and the remainder of her estate to family and friends.
Who were John and Hannah Neale?
John Thomas Neal was born at Denham Court, Campbelltown, NSW, in 1823 to John Neale (1897-1875) an overseer and later a carcass butcher, and his wife Sarah Lee (1799-1855). John Thomas was one of 14 children; 12 lived to adulthood and in 1843, at the time of the birth of his youngest sibling, 10 still lived in the family home. John Thomas, the second son, married Hannah Maria Bull (1825-1911) the daughter of John and Elizabeth Mary Bull of Bull’s Hill, Liverpool, in August 1843; she was 18 and John 20 and they were never able to have children. John died at his Potts Point home, Lugarno, in September 1897, aged 74 and Hannah died at Lugarno in March 1911, aged 86.
John commenced building his fortune in the livestock trade following in his already wealthy father’s footsteps. Commencing initially in the Monaro district working on his father’s leased pastoral run Middlebank, he soon returned to Sydney to become a carcass butcher in his father’s business in Sussex Street.
As a carcass butcher, John would attend different cattle markets and purchase cattle or sheep. This required considerable skill and knowledge as there were no facilities for weighing the livestock and the carcass butcher needed to be able to estimate the weight and quality from an animal’s size and appearance. When the animal was killed, skinned and dressed, the carcass butcher would then sell it to a retail butcher.
In the nineteenth century, livestock were driven to Sydney across the Blue Mountains for sale in Sydney. Instead of waiting for the stock to arrive at the sale yards as other carcass butchers did Neale, in partnership with other enterprising young men, on hearing their probable date of arrival, would ride a day or two’s journey and meet the drovers. The potential buyers would band together and purchase the livestock on the spot, thereby restricting the supply to the other older more established carcass butchers, which enabled them to sell at a profit to the Sydney-based carcass butchers. With the capital John acquired over many years of this business, he purchased land and became a large property owner, also leasing pastoral runs and raising cattle and sheep for the meat market.
The former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Professor Allan Fels, commenting on the revelations about banking behaviour in the Royal Commission, has said
“… it’s now out there in public that this behaviour has been going on, widespread, shocking, unconscionable … It’s worse than I thought, more systemic, more unconscionable.”
Jeff Morris, the whistleblower on Commonwealth Bank activities, recently in receipt of $700 million dollar fine for ‘dodgy’ behaviour, sees it arising in part from the
“untrammelled greed of management fuelled by out-of-control bonus schemes based on Key Performance Indicators”.
Such are things today, but I want to take you to a happier banking time which was motivated not by profit but by philanthropy; to the time of the Penny Bank. “A penny saved is a penny gained” was a slogan used in NSW to promote the formation of Penny Banks and to encourage the poor to bank very small sums.
Where did the idea of Penny Banks originate and what was their purpose?
The Penny Bank (PB) in origin seems to have several stands to its DNA. In 1861 J D Langley, himself a banker and future bishop of the Church of England in Australia, drew attention to Priscilla Wakefield in Tottenham as the founder of the PB. In 1798, she founded the first ‘frugality bank’ in England to help those on low incomes to save money. Members paid, according to age, a monthly sum which would give them a pension after they were 60 years old and money if they were sick. In this function, it was more like a Friendly Society than a bank for it was a form of superannuation, the benefit of which was only available to its beneficiary at a certain date.
In 1808, a society was formed in Bath for the purpose of receiving the savings of industrious and respectable servants upon which interest of four per cent was paid. The management of the scheme was undertaken by a committee of eight, four of whom were ladies. PBs, which were open to all and where funds could be drawn at any stage, was a Scottish innovation being formed in West Calder by its minister the Rev John Muckersey in 1807 and then a short time later by the Rev Henry Duncan of Ruthwell in Dumfriesshire in 1810. Such banks, however, did not become commonplace in Scotland until decades later in the 1860s.
The aim of the PB was to encourage the less well-off to save very small sums ‘to encourage and foster habits of regularity and frugal economy’ and place them with the PB. In turn, this money would be deposited by the Trustees of the PB in a Savings Bank which would pay interest that was passed on to the PB depositor. The PB was necessary as the Savings Banks normally would only accept a minimum deposit of one shilling. Initially, the first NSW PB did not pay interest as it was intended only to ‘be a poor man’s purse to save his pence until they became shilling and pounds’ upon which time they could place their funds in a savings bank. It was considered, quite correctly, that calculating interest would be a significant burden on the administrators and so this initial PB was promoted as a ‘Safety Bank’ and not a ‘Savings’ Bank’. This was soon to change and PBs did pay interest. Depositors were encouraged to become a PB member as
You will have the advantage of feeling you are doing your duty to your family and yourself, and that you are placing your money where it will be safe, until sickness or old age, or some other cause compels you to ask for it again.
The first PBs in the colonies of Australia were at Unley in South Australia (1858), Dalby in Queensland (1859), Liverpool in New South Wales (1859), Geelong in Victoria (1862) and Launceston in Tasmania (1862). The way the PBs were organised was outlined in a newspaper article encouraging their formation:
Stephen Garton’s book Out of Luck, Poor Australians and Social Welfare, 1788-1988 (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1990) is an engaging and helpful summary book and I have enjoyed and benefited from reading it. It was written in 1990 but is still often quoted and so it is appropriate to suggest an amendment to the view it expresses on poverty, unemployment and philanthropy. In his introduction, Garton says:
The Gospels declare that the poor are always with us. If that is so then many commentators on Australia have ignored their existence. Opinion makers … have argued that poverty was negligible in Australia. Such men are part of a broad cultural stream which has perpetuated the image of Australia as a ‘workingman’s paradise’. But what of the man who could not find work? What of the women whose work was remunerated at lower levels than men or not at all if she worked at home? What of those too old or too ill to work and families without breadwinners to support them?
At one point in his book, Garton contrasts the views of nineteenth-century philanthropists and the colonial political radicals and liberals on the question of poverty and its solutions. He says that
For philanthropists selective charity and moral reform were the means to overcome the evil of idleness which caused poverty. But for radicals and liberals, supported by the emergent labour movement, a prosperous economy, property ownership and a fair day’s pay were the best means to ensure that Australia was a ‘workingman’s paradise’ free of the poverty that plagued the ‘old world’.
The conflict between philanthropic solutions to poverty and the strategies of liberals, radicals and labour was most acute in the face of the 1890s depression. In 1891 leading philanthropist Rev J. D. Langley argued that widespread unemployment was best tackled by renewed emphasis on work tests to discourage pauperism. In the same issue of the Sydney Quarterly Magazine prominent liberal B.R. Wise put the opposing view: ‘the bulk of poverty cannot be traced to personal vices but are attributable to industrial causes for which the sufferer is not responsible’. The real solution, according to Wise, was trade unionism, land taxation, the minimum wage, and worker co-operatives. This view challenged the philosophy of philanthropy.
Garton appropriately describes Langley as a leading philanthropist and thereby positions him as representative in his philanthropic views on poverty. This presentation of the attitudes of philanthropists, such as those of Langley, paints for the reader a picture of the philanthropists as out of touch with reality in solely seeing unemployment and the resultant poverty as a product of moral failure. Whereas, by contrast, the views of political liberals and radicals provided a realistic diagnosis and solution to the issue. That a simple dichotomy and characterisation is given in this concise, brief (approximately 170 pages) but wide-ranging history is understandable. The summary is a neat, clear-cut contrasting summary, but it is overly simplistic and misleading. There was much more to the thinking and action of Langley the philanthropist than selective charity and moralism.
In response, Garton’s presentation invites several questions. Did Langley the philanthropist think that poverty was caused by idleness? Did Langley believe that ‘widespread unemployment was best tackled by a renewed emphasis on work tests to discourage pauperism’? What place did philanthropists, such as Langley, think that ‘industrial causes’ had in contributing to poverty? (more…)
In the nineteenth century, Matrons were appointed to various institutions to oversee their domestic arrangements. The New South Wales Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution (DDBI) was governed by a Gentleman’s Committee, elected annually by subscribers, and a women’s committee, initially largely the wives of the gentlemen and referred to as the Ladies Visiting Committee (LVC), who directed the Matron in her duties.
At the DDBI, the Matron’s role had been spelt out in a report soon after its formation in 1862:
The domestic arrangements of the house are conducted by … the matron of the institution, who, under the direction of the ladies’ committee, superintends the internal affairs of the establishment; she also presides at table, accompanies the pupils in their walks, and regulates the general regime of the household.
Over time, this role would evolve in its complexity with the growth of the DDBI and with the increasing number of children under its care, but in essence, it remained the same. The Matron was required to keep a daily journal ‘of all proceedings in the house to be laid before the Committees at their meetings’, and on Sunday she was required to attend church with the children. Perhaps because of some unhappy incidents the by-laws, formulated a decade after the DDBI’s commencement, explicitly stated that ‘She shall treat the children with good nature and civility, and she shall never suffer any degree of cruelty, insolence or neglect in the servants towards them to pass unnoticed.’
Commentators were in no doubt that being the Matron of the DDBI was no easy task:
The post is a difficult one, requiring not only the kindly firmness necessary to the mistress of every such establishment, but an intimate knowledge of the peculiarities of the deaf and dumb – a knowledge which can only be acquired by long experience and patient observance.
Such a view emphasised just one of the relationships which made the role difficult. There were three relationships that were important and challenging for any Matron. Firstly, the relationship with the LVC to whom she was directly responsible and through them to the Gentleman’s Committee, secondly the relationship with the master in charge and other staff, and finally the relationship with the children themselves. The powerful LVC, under the influence of its long-time secretary Ann Goodlet, was probably the most important of these relationships and their attitudes about the Matron’s efficiency were formed by how well she administered the household. As part of the Matron’s administrative role the LVC were also concerned with staff relationships and how the children were treated.
No records of the LVC have survived, but the scope of their activities can be seen in their correspondence with the Gentleman’s Committee and the requests made by the Committee for the LVC’s assistance. Ann Goodlet, an active committee member from 1863, was appointed secretary of the LVC in 1873 and it is evident from the Committee’s minutes that she was most energetic in the pursuit of her duties. In this role, to which later was added that of president, Ann exercised great influence on the operations of the DDBI. The LVC was concerned with the selection and monitoring of the performance of the domestic staff. This included, most importantly, the appointment of the Matron, but it would appear to have even extended, on occasions, to the engagement of some of the teaching staff. The actual appointments were made by the Committee, but on the advice and recommendation of the LVC. Matrons seemed to have resigned to the LVC and such resignations were then forwarded to the directors. The views of the LVC, which were probably up to the end of the century largely those of their Secretary Mrs Goodlet, carried great weight and, on occasions, carried even greater weight than the judgement of their respected Superintendent, Samuel Watson.
Below are two tables which list Matrons from the commencement of the DDBI up to World War 1. One table is sorted by date of appointment the second by the age of the Matron at the time of her appointment. In the nineteenth century, (more…)