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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…)

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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Teachers of the Ragged Schools

The Misses Bowie: Louisa (1834-1884), Jessie (1836-1906), Catherine (1838-1918), and Elizabeth (1840-1922); Isabella Brown (1858-1932), Fanny Owen-Smith (1859-1932) and Violet Paterson (1871-1948)

The Misses Bowie, Isabella Brown, Fanny Owen-Smith and Violet Paterson who taught in the Sydney Ragged Schools, are examples of the dedicated, female, vocational philanthropists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While they gave a lifetime of devoted service to the Ragged Schools, they have hardly left a mark on the historical record of the times. This was not because their work was insignificant, but because official reports and newspaper accounts of the day gave much more attention to the governance and financial philanthropists of the charity and gave little mention to those who did the actual work of the organisation. Because of this lack of attention, their work and contribution has largely gone unrecorded and uncommented upon, and the paucity of sources makes this difficult to adequately redress. (more…)

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