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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…)

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:

(more…)

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