William Briggs (1828 – 1910) and Charlotte Sarah neé Nicholson (1820-1879) Maitland Benevolent Society

Willliam Briggs

William Briggs was born in 1828[1] 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,[2] 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’).[3]  In 1853, he married his cousin Charlotte Sarah d’Argeavel neé Nicholson (1820-1879),[4] 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.[5] 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,[6] boarded the Windsor and sailed to the colony of NSW arriving in Sydney on November 2, 1853.[7] 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.

Charlotte Briggs nee Nicholson

William applied for admission as a solicitor and proctor of the Supreme Court of NSW[8] and was admitted on December 31, 1853,[9] and commenced work as a solicitor in West Maitland in February of 1854.[10] In 1855, he was appointed clerk of petty sessions for the police district of Maitland.[11] 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[12] and later that year, in November, William married Elizabeth Rourke (1837-1918),[13] a family friend and co-worker with Charlotte in charitable work.[14]

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.[15] (more…)

John Thomas Neale (1823-1897) and Hannah Maria Bull (1825-1911) Financial Philanthropists

John Thomas Neale died in Sydney in 1897 leaving an estate valued for probate at £804,945 ($12.2m current value)[1] 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.

John Thomas Neale

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[2] and Hannah died at Lugarno in March 1911, aged 86.[3]

Hannah Maria Neale

Business Interests

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6] 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.

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Penny Banks in Colonial NSW: banking that sought to serve

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.”[1]

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”.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] PBs, which were open to all and where funds could be drawn at any stage, was a Scottish innovation[5] being formed in West Calder by its minister the Rev John Muckersey in 1807[6] and then a short time later by the Rev Henry Duncan of Ruthwell in Dumfriesshire in 1810.[7] 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’[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

The first PBs in the colonies of Australia were at Unley in South Australia (1858),[12] Dalby in Queensland (1859),[13] Liverpool in New South Wales (1859),[14] Geelong in Victoria (1862)[15] and Launceston in Tasmania (1862).[16] The way the PBs were organised was outlined in a newspaper article encouraging their formation:

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Nineteenth Century Poverty, Unemployment, Philanthropy and Stephen Garton

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.[1] 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?[2]

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.[3]

Garton appropriately describes Langley[4] 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.

Archdeacon John Douse Langley

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…)

Matrons of the NSW Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution up to World War 1

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)[1] 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.[2]

First Home of DDBI 368 Castlereagh Street until December 1862

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.’[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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…)

John Shedden Adam (1824-1906) Presbyterian and governance philanthropist

John Shedden Adam from Graham W Hardy, Living Stones, the Story of St Stephen’s Sydney

John Shedden Adam was born in 1824 in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, to James Adam (1771-1849) and Janet Shedden (1788-1863).[1] James and Janet married on August 10, 1807, and they had eight children of whom John was the youngest son. John’s father was a man of many parts being an estate manager or factor, a land improver, a Writer to the Signet and the inventor of a screw propeller for naval ships.[2] James was originally from Lochwinnoch where he had a small property and in 1807 was appointed the factor on the great Drummond estate. On his own account, he was later involved in land improvement schemes at Barr Loch from 1813 until 1815; these proved a financial disaster.[3] Fortunately, by marrying into the Shedden family and through the wealth and generosity of Janet’s uncle, the Adam family did not face ruin and were later to inherit significant wealth.[4] These Barr Loch holdings were sold by 1820[5] and on quitting agricultural pursuits and leaving Garpel near Lochwinnoch, James practised as a Writer to the Signet (solicitor) in Edinburgh, a profession to which he had been apprenticed.[6]

Around 1821, James returned again to the role of factor (property manager) moving his family to Lewis where he worked for Mackenzie of Seaforth at least until 1826.[7] Around this date, he moved back to Edinburgh and recommenced his business as a Writer to the Signet.[8] John Shedden Adam, despite the strong family connections to Lochwinnoch where all his siblings were born and his relatives had significant landholdings, spent his childhood initially on Lewis and then from 5 years of age in Edinburgh.[9] He went to school at the Royal Naval and Military Academy, Lothian Road, Edinburgh.[10] This institution was commenced for the purpose of ‘affording education to pupils destined to serve in the army or navy, or East India Company’s service’. The Academy taught a range of practical subjects such as mathematics, science and engineering and languages but, importantly for Adam’s future work as a draftsman, it also taught landscape and perspective drawing.[11] In 1841, John was awarded the Master’s prize in senior mathematics and first prize in civil engineering.[12]

The Adam Family and New Zealand

By 1841, the extended Adam family had decided to seek their fortune in New Zealand. John’s brother James and his wife Margaret took passage to New Zealand on the Brilliant and arrived in October of that year. The Adam family had been convinced by the New Zealand Manukau and Waitemata Company to invest £1,200 in shares for land[13] and were led to believe that the wonderful city of Cornwallis was ready and waiting for energetic young immigrants, such as themselves, from Scotland.[14] The settlement was a disaster. Where settlers expected there to be a town there was nothing but wilderness, and they had been duped by exaggerated promises.[15] Sadly, the settlement leader, together with James Adam and several others, going on an errand of mercy to get medicine for a sick woman (Mrs. Hamblin, wife of the Missionary at Manukau) were drowned in November of 1841[16] and the plans of the Adam family were thrown into disarray.

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Home Visiting and Relief Society

The Home Visiting and Relief Society (HVRS) was originally to be called after the ‘Poor Room-keeper’s Society’. This was the shortened name of ‘The Sick and Indigent Room-keepers Society’ formed in Dublin in 1790. It was decided, however, that the proposed name did not do justice to the aims of this new society and so it was named the ‘Home Visiting Relief Society’. As Sir Alfred Stephen said ‘it was very desirable that the name of the society should be such as should carry with it to the public an impression of what its purposes were’.[1] The leading objects of the HVRS were that of

visiting, at their own homes, such of the distressed inhabitants of Sydney as belonged to the educated classes and had seen better days, but who had been reduced to poverty, and who, from their position, from their more refined feelings and associations, were utterly unable to go into the streets to beg, and who were pained at the very idea of soliciting charity in any form.[2]

In Sydney the formation of HVRS was discussed in the Judges’ Chambers at the Supreme Court Sydney on December 16, 1861 at a meeting chaired by Sir Alfred Stephen. It was attended by Mr Justice Wise, Mr Justice Milford, Sir W M Manning, the Rev A H Stephen, Dr Douglass and five or six other gentlemen that included Captain Samuel North, Dr Charles and probably John M’Lerie, Richard Jones and Captain Scott.[3] According to Sir W M Manning it was Dr Henry Grattan Douglass[4] whose proposal it was to form such a society and that he took the idea from a society of the kind that had existed for some time in Ireland (the ‘Poor Room-Keeper’s Society’). So, as Manning said, the origin of the Society was due to Ireland and an Irishman.[5] The nucleus of the society’s funds was £100 which Douglass managed to persuade W C Wentworth to give, being a month of his salary as President of the Legislative Council.

(more…)

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