to HOME PAGE
THE WILLIAMS FAMILY IN THE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES
by Nevil Harvey-Williams
When I came to live in Leicester in 1968 I thought that, being so near to Nottingham, it would be a good opportunity to do some research on the Williams family in the period before Henry and William Williams emigrated to New Zealand in the 1820's as C.M.S. missionaries.
Encouraged initially by Canon Nigel Williams of New Zealand, who provided some brief notes to start me off, my first efforts were modest and often seemed to have run into a dead end. Many accidental discoveries, unearthed by patient and helpful library and record office staff, kept the project alive and, gradually, over a number of years, it developed and expanded. For example, I visited the Special Collections Library of Nottingham University to study the minute books of the Castle Gate Meeting; on entering I was required to sign in with my name and address. About a week later I had a letter from the librarian, Michael Brook, who had remembered, after I left, the recently published Diary of Abigail Gawthern of Nottingham; 1751-1810, and the extracts he sent me contained the references to the deaths of Mr Whiter and Thomas Williams, and the fact that Thomas was buried at Sneinton, which was previously unknown. On another occasion, Frances Porter, the author of the definitive biography of William Williams, The Turanga Journals, asked me if I knew when Henry and William had converted to Anglicanism. I had no idea, but this led me into a study of the Dissenting politics that controlled Nottingham for over fifty years at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, in which environment Thomas Williams the younger was immersed and prospered. Eventually, when a single volume of the diaries of Edward Garrard Marsh was discovered in the papers of Dr. Henry Williams of New Zealand, after his death, I was able to answer Frances Porter's question - February 1818!
During the course of this research I have collaborated with other family members in England, notably Peter (D.A.S.) Williams of Norwich, Robert Hudson of Reading, and Patrick Williams of Amersham (all descendants of Thomas Sydney Williams) who have each been the source of much important information. Mr Godfrey Williams (no relation) also provided valuable help with burial records at St. Mary's, Alverstoke. In addition, Brian Robins (formerly of Eastbourne), who has written a scholarly treatise on John Marsh the musician, came into the story quite by chance, in 1989. This was in connection with the search for the Journals of John Marsh, which reached fruition in November 1990 when they were sold at auction to the Huntington Library in California. As a condition for obtaining an export licence, the Huntington Library was obliged to make a microfilm copy of the Journals, to be deposited in the British Library in London, and I am very much indebted to Mary Robertson, the Chief Curator of Manuscripts, for allowing me to purchase a copy of the microfilm to augment my studies. The Journals have provided a huge mass of contemporary references which greatly enhance our knowledge of the day to day lives of the Williams family and illuminate this account of them. I am also especially indebted to Gary Williams of New Zealand who has created a website ( www.williams.gen.nz/ ) on which this account and some supporting documents can be viewed. Furthermore, he was responsible for acquiring a number of original letters written by Thomas Williams in the period 1794-1803, and by his persistent research on the internet he has made significant contributions to the development of this family history.
The success of any attempt to investigate the history of our forebears depends totally on the availability of recorded information about them, and particularly on its authenticity. In many instances it is based on unverifiable word of mouth accounts passed down from generation to generation, recorded recollections which vary from each other, or dogmatic written statements asserted as fact; subject to what I call 'The Uncle Jim Factor' (explained in a footnote to this Introduction). A particular example is the claim by William Williams that the family was descended from Ednyfed Vychan, on the flimsiest of grounds, but uncontestable in the absence of any other source. Much time, effort and money has been expended in pursuing this line of enquiry, with totally negative results, until an alternative explanation for his unlikely claim emerged from the John Marsh Journals. Inevitably, I have had to indulge in speculation occasionally when there have been gaps in the known narrative or, perhaps, different and incompatible accounts of the same event. I have always tried to list my sources, so that anyone whose views differ from mine can see how I have arrived at them, and if they wish to put forward an alternative conclusion, to offer the evidence on which it is based.
To try and preserve the work I have done, and to make it available to anyone else who may be interested, or would like to use it to take the story on without having to start again at the beginning, I am putting as much as I can on to disc, which in addition to this account of the early history of the Williams family, will include, inter alia, contributions by others, extracts from family letters and, separately, material on the Marsh family and abstracts from John Marsh's Journal. Some of these records have been deposited as 'The Nevil Harvey Williams Papers' in the Auckland and Turnbull libraries in New Zealand.
(Footnote on The Uncle Jim Factor. Uncle Jim was the second of three brothers and one sister, of which my father was the eldest. Uncle Jim always regarded himself as the ultimate repository of all knowledge relating to the family history. Jim had an excellent memory for stories he had been told about this, particularly those that he considered had been passed down to him by the family 'elders', that is, those of previous generations, many of whom he claimed to know personally, and from whom he was privileged to be the guardian of knowledge for their successors. He disdained ever to check his 'facts' (even when documents such as a family tree were in his possession) or to alter his stories by one jot if evidence was presented to him which was at variance with his impregnable view of himself as the indisputable authority on all such matters. Much family history is based on similar sources, not always, perhaps, in such an extreme form, but often uncheckable, nevertheless. This becomes compounded if there are different accounts from different sources, such as the various accounts of the death of Thomas Williams in 1804. The conscientious historian therefore, must always bear in mind the possibility of 'The Uncle Jim Factor' being present in anything that cannot be verified from an independent and objective record.)
Earlier accounts of the family history have rested heavily on statements made by William Williams, who emigrated to New Zealand as a C.M.S. missionary in 1826 and eventually became the first bishop of Waiapu. In a letter he wrote to his biographer, Hugh Carleton, referring to the claimed descent from the Williams-Bulkeley family of Penrhyn and through them from Edynfed Vychan, Lord of Brynffenigl, in Denbighshire, he said 'I cannot tell you the precise position in the line, but my mother told me when I was a boy that my great-grandfather was either the younger brother or the younger son of the baronet of our name.' He later compiled a longer description of the supposed pedigree for a member of the family.
When William was appointed bishop in 1859 his episcopal seal and patent were granted to him in the same arms as the Williams of Penrhyn and the same as those halved of John Williams, (1582-1650), Archbishop of York. This was reputed to have been done after a search conducted at the time but the evidence leading to a grant of these arms was said to have been destroyed by fire during a war or rebellion in New Zealand. However, if the investigation had been properly carried out there would be a record of it at the College of Arms in London, whatever the fate of any documents in New Zealand, but there is none. Their response to an enquiry in 1989 was, 'Although there were many persons named Williams who received grants of Armorial Bearings during the late 19th century, I regret that I have to report that that I find no indication that any of these related to William Williams of New Zealand. The quotation which you have kindly submitted, seems to suggest an erroneous self-assumption of the Armorial Bearings of the Williams family of Penrhyn. This assumption has no proper authority. 'Some research was done, around 1928, by a professional genealogist, who established conclusively that no Thomas had been born into this branch of the family and although there were plenty of sons named Thomas in another branch which bore the same arms, that title became extinct in 1696.
Further doubts were expressed about William Williams's assertions in a letter the sixth Bishop, Herbert William Williams, wrote to his nephew (Samuel Harvey Williams) in 1930. 'I have never heard as an actual fact, but have always understood that when my grandfather became bishop some enquiries were made and I have in my possession a painting, now somewhat damaged, evidently done by a professional, showing his arms marshalled (that is the technical term) with those of the Diocese. But that might have been done by the engraver, who has, alas, no heraldic authority. I believe your grandfather's cousin Sydney W [Edmund Sidney Williams; 1817-1891] (of the firm Williams & Norgate) had made some enquiries at least 10 years before as I used to have a copy of a bookplate of his which he had in use in the early 50's (the consecration was 1859). The arms are those used by John Williams Archbishop of York 1621 - 1641, and represent the Williams of a family Bulkeley-Williams in Wales: but I do not know that we can actually trace the connexion with either. I do not think any further enquiries were made when your grandfather became bishop.'
William Williams is the only person to have asserted this line of descent; no one else of his generation has confirmed it nor, indeed, made any reference to it. His grandfather, the Rev. Thomas, died thirty years before William was born and William was only three when his own father died. In these circumstances, his testimony on the ancestry of the Williams family, based solely on his recollections of what he claimed his mother had told him as a boy, perhaps 60 years earlier, failing corroboration from any other source, must be regarded as highly implausible. Moreover, many people have attempted to verify William's statement but, without exception, they have failed to establish the connection. The research commissioned by Hal Williams's in 1928 has been referred to above. Other examples include a similar exercise carried out for Fritz Williams in 1970 and individual efforts by Dr. Henry Williams, around 1975, and Sybil Woods. In all these cases, the only possible 'fit' was if the Rev. Thomas Williams was 74 when he died, but he died 'in his forty-sixth year'.
Sir Nigel Reed took a different route in a detailed study he carried out in 1988. His very thorough piece of work unearths some intriguing possibilities, but is unable to discover a likely 'Thomas', and he goes a bit 'wobbly' at the end; again on a possible date of birth for the Rev. Thomas. Nevertheless, a re-examination of some of the loose ends he was unable to resolve might prove fruitful; for example, could there have been a 'missing' generation between 1696 and 1724/5?
Another allegation was that the Rev. Thomas had been disinherited because of his dissenting beliefs. It was suggested that he became a Congregationalist whilst a student at Oxford and his father was so incensed by this that his name was struck off the family tree and he was disinherited, together with his sister who also joined the Congregational Church. But where did this notion come from? Neither the letter William Williams wrote to his biographer, Hugh Carleton, nor some notes he compiled for his (great) grand-daughter, Sally Maclean, has any reference to it. The idea seems to originate with Sybil Woods, the author of Samuel Williams of Te Aute, claiming that the story came from Henry and William Williams, who told it to their descendants, but no record of it from any other source can be found. We are just expected to accept the assertion that Henry and William told their children, who in turn told theirs, and this then passed down the generations into family folklore, gaining embellishments on the way.
The facts that can be established about Thomas are not consistent with these views. In his Will, signed on 3rd. October 1752, Thomas refers to 'certain legacies which shall be due at the death of some of my relatives in the Principality of Wales'. By this time he was 27 years old and had already been the minister at Gosport for two years, after six years training for the ministry at Plasterer's Hall, the Congregationalist Academy, and shortly after he had been elected a member of the influential King's Head Society. None of this supports the contention that he had been disinherited because of his religious persuasions. There is no record of Thomas having been a student at Oxford, (or Cambridge), and there are no other references to the identity or existence of a sister.
We learn from another source, (John Marsh's diary), however, that William's grandfather on his mother's side was disinherited because he had displeased his cousin, Counsellor (at law) John Marsh 'by not chusing to marry a lady he had looked out for him'. Counsellor Marsh belonged to a Kentish family which had inherited Nethersole House, near Canterbury, by marriage, several generations earlier. On his death, without issue, the estate should have passed to Capt. Henry Marsh but it was left instead to John Winchester, a surgeon, with whom Counsellor Marsh had originally become acquainted through the setting of the broken leg of a favourite dog. John Winchester lived in Norfolk Street, in the Strand, near to the Middle Temple, where Counsellor Marsh pursued his legal profession. Marsh lodged with Winchester for many years when in London, and 'valued him for his honour, honesty, sincere integrity and great charity to the poor in the way of his profession.' Clearly his regard for John Winchester went some way beyond his gratitude for the treatment of his dog. Henry Marsh was cut off with a legacy of one thousand pounds and an annuity of a hundred pounds for life. On the death of John Winchester, the property reverted to Henry's eldest son, John, (the diarist).
Henry Marsh compounded his transgression by becoming a Dissenter. In February 1750 he married Molly Tyler at Dorking West Street Independent Chapel. He is not recorded as a student at either Oxford or Cambridge and there are no obvious forebears who could have fitted William's reference to his great grandfather being 'either the younger brother or the younger son of the baronet of our name', so that part of the story remains unexplained. Mary Williams would have been extremely familiar, at first hand, with the circumstances of her father's disinheritance, and of her brother John's subsequent reinstatement in the estate, and it is much more probable that this was the origin of the version of the story attributed to the Rev. Thomas and his forbears by William Williams.
The inference that the Rev. Thomas had been repudiated by his family because of his dissenting beliefs seems to suggest that these were considered to be an unfortunate aberration from former norms. Fritz Williams hints at this when he commented 'I wonder, sometimes, if, at some early period of the 19th century, we were slightly ashamed of our Dissenting ancestor - perhaps this feeling crept even into the 20th century.' Delving deeper, however, it becomes clear that the Williams family was firmly moulded in the non-conformist tradition for at least three generations. As we have seen, the Rev. Thomas Williams of Gosport was apparently in good standing with his 'relatives in the Principality of Wales' and, as recounted later, was highly thought of in his community. The younger Thomas staunchly maintained his own Congregationalist faith throughout his life, as did his sister, Rebecca Voke, in Gosport. Thomas Williams's wife, Mary, was christened into and retained the same beliefs. Both Thomas and Mary were members of the Castle Gate Independent Chapel in Nottingham, though after Mary's move to Southwell, her faith seems to have evolved into low church Evangelical Anglicanism, probably under the influence of her nephew and son-in-law Edward Garrard Marsh. Their children, and their nephew, Edward Thomas Marsh, were brought up in this dissenting environment; Thomas Sydney and Lydia, especially, coming under the authoritarian influence of their Aunt Voke. The three eldest sons, Thomas Sydney, Henry and William, all married wives from well-established Nottingham non-conformist families; the Heaths, Coldhams and Nelsons. Thomas Sydney and his children remained as Dissenters after he had emigrated to Hamburg. Thomas, in a codicil to his Will, written, in effect, on his deathbed, decreed that 'As a further Testimony of the Confidence and Esteem I entertain for my said Brother John Voke (of Gosport in the County of Hampshire Gentleman) and my sister Rebecca his Wife', they should be appointed, together with his wife, as 'joint Guardians of all my Children.'; in other words, placed in the care of those with a similar religious background to his own.
In these circumstances, further research into the line of descent should seriously examine whether the non-conformist background extended to previous generations, and to consider, perhaps, that it was Henry and William who were the Anglican (even if low church Evangelical) departures from the religious orientation of their forebears and we should keep an open mind into the possibility that the Williams family was descended from good Welsh Dissenting stock! The next section examines this possibility in greater detail.
Wherever we search, we must do so with an open mind, guided, perhaps, by what President John Kennedy once said; "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears." (Speaking at Yale University in June 1962.)
SEARCH FOR THE WELSH BACKGROUND OF THE WILLIAMS FAMILY
Although it is fairly certain that the Williams family is of Welsh origin, the established facts can only trace its ancestry as far back as the Rev.Thomas Williams of Gosport, (1724/5 -1770). Nevertheless, the clue provided in his Will - 'whereas there is certain legacies which shall be due at the death of some of my Relatives in the principality of Wales', suggest that the Welsh connection should be investigated more thoroughly.
In July 2005 I commissioned Mrs E.A.Baskerville of Aberystwyth to carry out some research for me, to try and trace the ancestors of the Rev. Thomas Williams, minister of the Congregational Chapel in Gosport from 1750 and 1770. The initial brief I gave her was to look for roots amongst the Independent/ Congregationalist communities in Wales. Whilst throwing up a number of outside possibilities, not enough detailed information could be gleaned to pursue these to any firm conclusion. The nearest 'fit', as she reported it to me, was:-
The earliest extant registers of a Nonconformist/Dissenters' chapel in Breconshire were those of Tredustan, Talgarth. The registers begin in 1700 and are held at the PRO, but the National Library has a microfilm copy. There are several Williams families associated with this chapel, but the only record of a Thomas Williams I found baptised at Tredustan Congregational Chapel was for Thomas son of William Williams of Chancefield; Born 28 June about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and baptised 29 of the same month 1725.
As yet I have not been able to find any further information on this William Williams, but he may have been the William Williams of Tredustan who was a cousin to William Williams of Pantycelyn. [Another source, however, says that William Williams of Tredustan, who was at Tredustan from 1729-1762, was the cousin of William of Pantycelyn's father.]
Burials noted in the register of Tredustan
*12 January 1739 buried William Williams.
Baptisms at Tredustan
*Lydia daughter of William Williams, Chancefield, born 8 March about 11 o'clock at night and baptised 9 March 171?.
*28 December 1714 Mary Williams daughter of William Williams, Chancefield.
*Born 28 June about 5 0'clock in the afternoon and baptised 29 of the same month 1725 Thomas son of William Williams, Chancefield.
*20 September 1728 Elizabeth daughter of William Williams, Chancefield.
Subsequently, I asked her to search other avenues, such as those with Anglican connections, but these, too, yielded nothing of substance.
However, from accounts published in the Breconshire Historical Journal, Brycheiniog, it is apparent that non-conformism in Wales was well established by the middle of the 17th century and, although persecution was rife at the outset, this petered out following the Declaration of Indulgence proclaimed by James II on 4th April 1687. The Act of Toleration passed two years later allowed Dissenters freedom to worship on condition that their meeting places were licensed and their preachers took out a licence as well.
Non-conformist gentry families were very common in parts of Breconshire from the the late 17th century to the early 19th century but, later, there was a drift towards the established church. By 1690 a 'commodious place of worship' had been built for the Congregationalists at Tredustan, near Talgarth, described as 'the Jerusalem of the pious in all the parishes for miles around.' It was recorded that the average attendance at Tredustan was 250, of whom 40 were voters; in other words, among the more prosperous members of the community.
There were close ties between the Independents and the early Methodists of Breconshire in the 18th century. Around 1700 David Price kept school at Llwyn-lwyd in Llanigon parish where Howel Harris (1714-73), the founder of Welsh Methodism, was educated. Harris was converted during a sermon at Talgarth Church and established a religious community at Trefeca in 1750. William Williams (1717-91) of Pantycelyn, the great hymn writer of the revival, who composed almost a thousand hymns in both Welsh and English (the most famous of which is 'Guide me oh Thou Great Redeemer') was converted by the preaching of Howel Harris. Williams also finished his education under Price at Llwyn-lwyd Academy (1735-38).
Mrs Baskerville also searched the pedigrees of the Castellmarch, Cochwillan and Penrhyn branches of the Williams family, amongst whom there was considerable landed property, which could have been the source of the expectations that the Rev. Thomas Williams referred to in his Will.
What is clear, though, is that there was a strong and secure non-conformist community in the Welsh border areas during that period and the distaste for dissenters expressed by members of the family in New Zealand has no foundation whatsoever.
In September 2010 I commissioned some further research from Eilir Daniels of Your Welsh Ancestors.
The obituaries in the Gentleman's Magazine, and his tombstone at St. Mary's Alverstoke, record that Thomas Williams died on 19th June 1770 and he is buried there in the Hammond family tomb. Allowing for the reform of the calendar in 1752, dying in the 'forty sixth year of his life', his birth date could have been between 1st July 1724 and 29th June 1725. Thus, there is just a possibility that Thomas, the son of William Williams of Chancefield, noted above, born on 28th June 1725, might be the same person. This was where Eilir Daniels concentrated her researches. A summary from the full report, of her conclusions is given below.
"William Williams of Chancefield
The research into this family proved the most fruitful. Here we have confirmation from baptism records that a Thomas Williams, with both a Welsh and a nonconformist background, was born on 28th June 1725, within the possible time frame for our Thomas. In addition to this, Thomas clearly, thanks to his aunt Mary's Will, was bequeathed a legacy from the Gwernfydden Fach estate (Clyro, Radnorshire). According to the terms of the Will, Thomas's elder brother - William Williams - was to take charge of Gwernfydden Fach (after the death of Mary's husband) and was required to make payments from the estate to his siblings. However, no records could be traced that could shed more light on the fate of this particular legacy once William had legally taken charge of the property. Similarly, no information could be traced with regards the death of William, his Will nor to the fate of the Gwernfydden legacy once William had died. William appeared to be still alive in 1766 when his name appears in the Clyro Court papers associated with Gwernfydden Fach.
It has not been possible to trace any reference to the Chancefield Thomas once he had become an adult - any such reference would possibly have helped to provide the crucial evidence that could have proven that the Rev Thomas Williams of Gosport was a member of this family (or not). However, despite the fact that no Will or other legal document could be traced that named Rev Thomas Williams specifically, all the information that could be gathered suggests that this particular Williams family fits the correct profile: a nonconformist, prominent, comparatively wealthy family who owned minor estates and property, whose members included Thomas Williams, the son of William and Elizabeth Williams of Chancesfield, who was born on 28th June 1725."
We cannot be absolutely certain from this research that we have identified 'our' Thomas but it is probably as near as we are going to get in all the circumstances.
THE REV.THOMAS WILLIAMS OF GOSPORT
Some information about Thomas Williams's life can be gleaned from the inscriptions on his tombstone at St. Mary's Church, Alverstoke which, along with the appropriate entries in the sexton's register of burials, have been recorded and filed at the Portsmouth City Records Office. Supplementing this source is the International Genealogical Index compiled by the Mormon church and a number of references in some of the historical material on the Congregational church held by Dr. Williams' Library in London. Further background is provided by a booklet Homerton College; 1695-1978 by T.H.Simms.
Thomas became a student at Plasterer's Hall in Addle Street, London, (later Homerton Academy), one of the oldest of the academies established for the training of ministers only. In 1730 a society was founded by 'a few Protestant Dissenters' in London for the 'education of young men for the Christian ministry', namely the Congregational church. This became known as the 'King's Head Society', after the inn near the Royal Exchange where they met. The Society began a series of weekly lectures, placing carefully selected students in dissenting academies in London. Its supporters were dissatisfied with the management of the Congregational Fund Board, especially with the rule that limited students to those who had already passed through a classical training. They resolved to found an academy with a six years course where young men without a general classical education would receive one during the first two years and could then proceed to the usual classical-theological course.
The Congregational Fund Board demanded a degree of classical learning before its students entered a four year "academical" course of training for the ministry. The King's Head Society offered a course lasting six years, the first two of which the students spent as "grammarians", acquiring a classical education. Successful completion as a grammarian qualified the student to enter the "academical" course.
The origins of Homerton College are to be found in the educational movements which accompanied the great revolution of the seventeenth century. Higher education in England was then the monopoly of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, constrained by a curriculum derived from the scholastic treatment of medieval philosophy. The new learning of the Renaissance had degenerated into a sterile preoccupation with the niceties of language study. The universities' chief function was to provide a classical training for the clergy of the Established Church in England.
Some 35 academies flourished during the eighteenth century. Their major task remained the education of dissenting ministers, offering a curriculum which included those modern subjects, such as science, modern history and mental philosophy not taught in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Their high seriousness was in marked contrast to the intellectual blight which had descended upon the universities. They began to attract laymen as well as intending ministers, among whom may be found politicians like Harley and Bolingbroke, and writers like Defoe.
In 1768 the King's Head Society bought a copyhold mansion in High Street, Homerton, in East London, as a permanent site for its academy. This pleasant village, where country houses were being built for the merchants and citizens of London, was set in a strongly dissenting neighbourhood.
Each candidate for entry submitted an account of his faith and 'experience', or conversion, to a meeting of the Society, was interviewed, and admitted on three months probation for "trial of his Abilities" to ensure that he could profit from his first two years as a grammarian. At the end of three months he subscribed to the Ten Articles of the Westminster Assembly and the rules of the 'family', a term for the community retained from the earliest days in the seventeenth century when the academy was conducted in a minister's house. Every year the student was examined by members of the Society who heard him recite information, translate from the classics, debate with them a religious or philosophical theme, and in later years, preach a sermon. Reports were sent to his sponsoring minister, whose church contributed to his support at the Academy. Unfortunately, there is no record of the name of the minister or church by whom Thomas Williams was sponsored.
There were strong links with the Congregationalists in Wales following the appointment of Dr Benjamin Davis as Resident Tutor in 1781 - he had been President of Abergavenny Academy and has been described as - 'the foremost defender of Calvinist orthodoxy in Wales'. It would not be surprising if these strong links with Wales existed before that date.
From first to last, Calvinism was the creed professed by the tutors and imparted by them to their pupils. Eventually a Calvinistic creed of ten articles was drawn up to be subscribed to at regular intervals by all students. The classical and Hebrew tutor at the Academy during Thomas Williams time there was Dr. John Walker, LL.D., described as 'a man of uncommon learning and justly celebrated for his profound knowledge of the oriental languages.' The theological tutor was Dr. Zephaniah Marryat, a Presbyterian, considered to be the best Greek scholar among the Dissenters, gifted with a great memory, and a man who gained the affections of his pupils. The number of students was around fifteen to twenty. Students at Homerton were not permitted to forget its primary devotion to orthodox theology. Joseph Priestley's relatives would have sent him to the Academy, then at Plasterer's Hall under Dr. Marryat but, as he says, "being at that time an Arminian, I resolutely opposed it, especially upon finding that if I went thither, besides giving an experience, I must subscribe my assent to ten printed articles of the strictest Calvinist faith, and repeat it every six months."
The earliest reference to Thomas occurs in the minute book of the Congregational Society held in Dr. Williams' Library. An entry on 8th April 1745 reads 'Mr Hall and Mr King are desired to examin (sic) Mr Thomas Williams whether he is a proper person to be admitted a student in London'. A series of grants to Thomas are recorded in later entries:-
|3rd Feb. 1745/46||Thomas Williams 12 months £18-0-0.|
|2nd March 1746/47||Thomas Williams 12 months £18-0-0.|
|4th Jan. 1747/48||Thomas Williams Stud't in Dr.Marryatts 6 months £9-0-0.|
|2nd Jan. 1748/49 ||Ord'd Mr Williams stud't in Dr Marryatts 3 months £4-0-0|
and that his examination be appointed at Plaisterer's Hall this day fortnight.
|6th Feb. 1748/49||Mr King reported the examination of Mr Williams and that he had performed to satisfaction. That Mr. Williams be paid £5 for books to be bought by Mr. Hall.|
The double date, as 1745/46, clearly refers to the Julian Calendar in use in England until 1752, when the New Year began on 25th March, in contrast to the New Year in Europe, which began on 1st January.
In Vol. 4 of Joshua Wilson's manuscript memorials of the Dissenting Academies he includes a list of students at Dr Marryatt's. No starting date is given for Thomas Williams but a finishing date is given as 1749 and written in pencil after the name, 'Gosport'.
One other grant was made to Thomas Williams, though it is not clear for what purpose; perhaps it was to help support him in his new work at Gosport. It was from the Trotman Trust, a charity founded in about 1668 to support university graduates who were training to become Congregational ministers. Since it was very difficult at this time for independents to gain entry to the universities, those at the independent academies also received grants. Thomas was awarded £2-8-0 on 31st Jan 1748/49 but as there is a gap in the minute book of the Trust from 27th June 1744 until the entry for Thomas, it is possible that he had other grants from this source which cannot now be traced. The administration of both the Trotman Trust and the Congregational Fund seems to have been much the same, as the names of Mr King and Mr Hall occur in the minutes of each.
The minister at Gosport at that time was John Hurrion, the son of an eminent independent minister of the same name in London; 'Premature infirmities, which terminated in death, closed Mr. Hurrion's labours, in the year one thousand seven hundred and fifty, when he was only forty-five years of age.' During this illness one of the students at Homerton spent some time helping John Hurrion and after Thomas had completed his studies at Homerton, in 1749, he took over as assistant. When John Hurrion died, Thomas succeeded him and 'discharged the duties of the pastoral office with great acceptance, affection, and usefulness, from one thousand seven hundred and fifty to one thousand seven hundred and seventy when, to the grief of his flock, he was removed by death, in the forty-sixth year of his life.'
There is a copy of the ordination service of Thomas Williams at Gosport on 6th June 1750, in Dr Williams' Library, which includes the invitation to him to take the post and his acceptance of it.
Invitation to Thomas Williams to take over as Pastor at Gosport
So I must desire one of this Church publickly to testify in the Name of the Rest, before these Witnesses, your Call of our dear Brother to the Pastoral Care and Charge of this Flock, and the steps you have taken towards your Settlement with him.
This was accordingly done by one of the Deacons, in the following Manner, viz.
The All-wise and Sovereign Disposer of all Things, having been pleased by a long, and very heavy Affliction, to render our late worthy Pastor the Reverend Mr Hurrion altogether incapable of performing his ministerial Work; it occasioned great concern, and thoughtfulness of the sad Consequences thereof in Respect to this Church, and obliged us to think of endeavouring to procure an Assistant: And after sundry and (I hope) serious and importunate Applications to the Throne of Grace for Guidance and Direction in an Affair of so great Importance; the Reverend Mr Williams, having been proposed to us, was applied to, and prevailed with to undertake that service for a limited Time; the Church hereby intending to wait the Issue of Providence, still hoping our late worthy Pastor might have been restored again to his former Usefulness. But finding, on the contrary, his Disorder not only continuing, but increasing; and he having chosen to lay down his Pastoral Office in this Church; and the Reverend Mr Williams having then laboured amongst us a considerable Time, (and as I hope and trust,) not without some Success: As we had in that space of Time a sufficient Taste of his Gifts and Abilities for the work of the Ministry, and thorough Satisfaction that his Conversation was agreeable to his Christian Profession; this Church did (some time in March last,) after mature Deliberation, unanimously agree to give him a Call to the Pastoral Office. And therefore in the Name and by the Order of this Church, I now publickly before these Witnesses renew that Call, and hereby invite you, the before-named Mr Williams, to accept of and take upon you the Pastoral Care of this Church.
Now, my dear Brother, I must desire you to testify before this Assembly your Acceptance of this Call, and what determined you to do it.
Acceptance speech to Pastorate at Gosport of Thomas Williams June 6th 1750
When I received the Call of this Church, I immediately enquired of the deputed Brethren, whether they had acquainted their late Pastor, the Reverend Mr Hurrion, with their Proceeding. Upon their telling me they had, and that it was his Desire I should undertake the Pastoral Office in this Church; I then told them they should know my Determination as soon as possible, and I earnestly desired a share in their Addresses at the Throne of Grace, that God would direct me to that which would be most for his own Glory and our mutual Edification. In coming to a Determination in an affair of so great Importance, I frequently looked to the great Shepherd of his church for Direction, being (I trust) sincerely desirous to know and follow his Will. After many importunate Requests for Direction from the unerring Guide of his People, and (I hope) a serious and impartial weighing of their Call; I could not but think, that it that it was agreeable to the Will of God I should comply with their Invitation. And therefore, under a deep Sense of my own Weakness and Insufficiency, but in Hopes of receiving Assistance from him with whom is the Residue of the Spirit, I acquainted this Church with my Acceptance of their Call; and we have appointed this Day for my publickly undertaking the Pastoral Office.
In the baptismal registers held at the Public Record Office, the section covering the ministry of Thomas Williams starts with a handwritten note; 'A Register begun June 18th A.D.1750.'
Records show that Thomas Williams lived at No. 5 High Street, Gosport, (or Middle Street, as it used to be called until the beginning of the 19th century). The 'Chronicles of Portsmouth' says that the famous house at No. 5 High Street was 'purchased and dedicated to the use of succeeding pastors of the chapel; a handsome and respectable house at the upper end of High Street.'
Less than two months later, Thomas married Rebecca Isgar, of Gosport, at Rowner on 6th August 1750, the entry in the register describing him as 'a Teacher of Dissenting Congregation at Gosport.' A curious feature of this marriage is that Rebecca seems to have been some 11 years older than Thomas, and their youngest cild, Lydia, was born when Rebecca was aged 44. Rebecca's elder sister, Lydia, married James Hammond on 2nd June 1738, at Alverstoke. He appears to have been a well-to-do man, creating a family tomb at St. Mary's Church, Alverstoke in which fifteen relatives, including Thomas Williams, were interred.
Thomas had three children, all christened at Gosport Independent Chapel, High Street; Rebecca on 23rd June 1751, Thomas on 8th July 1753 and Lydia on 24th July 1757. Rebecca married John Voke, a purser on H.M.S. Acteon in the Royal Navy, and Lydia married John Fenn.
Thomas seems to have been well regarded in his ministry, and the benign attitude that existed towards Dissenters in that period is described by John Marsh later. In addition to the comments referred to earlier, a note in the Evangelical Magazine for Nov. 1797, (p442), says; "At an early age Mr. Joseph Mouchers was admitted a member of the church of the Protestant dissenters at Gosport then under the pastoral care of that most amiable and excellent man the Rev. Thomas Williams. He was a closely attentive bearer of the Word. This is evident from some private writings, found since his death, which contain 'Reflections' on the sermons he heard, and testify the pains he took to apply them with self examination and prayer. ....." The minutes of the Kings Head Society for 2nd June 1752 record that 'Mr. Wealthdale proposed the Rev. Mr. Thomas Williams of Gosport to be a member of this Soc.'
The obituaries in the Gentleman's Magazine, and his tombstone at St. Mary's Alverstoke, record that Thomas Williams died on 19th June 1770 and he is buried there in the Hammond family tomb. Allowing for the reform of the calendar in 1752, dying in the 'forty sixth year of his life', his birth date could have been between 1st July 1724 and 29th June 1725.
The first Independent Church at Gosport was erected in 1690. John Clifford from Wimbourne was the minister from 1701 - 1732 and he purchased and dedicated to the use of future pastors a house in Upper High Street. Thomas Williams was followed at Gosport by the Rev. James Watson but his heart was not in the ministry and large numbers of his congregation became disenchanted and left. Nevertheless, John Marsh draws a more sympathetic picture of him than this rather stark assessment, and a fuller account of his life is recorded later. He resigned in 1776 and the Rev. David Bogue took over. Within a short time David Bogue regained the esteem of those members who had departed and they rejoined. A few years later a new and commodious chapel was erected for him, which was at that time one of the largest in the country.
Although nothing in this account throws any light on Thomas's ancestry or where he was born, both his Will, in which he states 'whereas there is certain legacies which shall be due at the death of some of my Relatives in the principality of Wales I do also give devise and bequeath the same whatsoever it may be unto my said wife Rebecca', and the reference to the Welsh Congregationalist connection noted above, strongly suggest a Welsh non-conformist family background.
THOMAS AND MARY WILLIAMS AT GOSPORT
Thomas's son, Thomas, (1753-1804), grew up in the Gosport area and his occupation is given variously as Mercer, (diary of John Marsh), Draper, (his Will; 1793), Navy agent and contractor at Gosport, (autobiographical diary of his grandson), hosiery merchant in Nottingham (the same source) and Hosier (his mother's Will;1797). One might surmise, perhaps, that the first three applied to his business activities in Gosport, and the last two to his career after he had moved to Nottingham. Indeed, confirmation of the latter is provided by the Nottingham trade directories and other contemporary references, such as Abigail Gawthern's diary and the notice of his death in the Nottingham Journal, which all describe Thomas as a hosier. In addition, letters he wrote in 1794, at the time he was moving to Nottingham, suggest that he was involved with the broking of prize money from captured enemy ships, which explains, perhaps, the reference to his role as a Navy agent and contractor. A list of Inhabitants of Portsea; 1790-1797 includes Thomas Williams described as a Draper.
His grandson, Edmund Sydney, wrote a diary in which he said that Thomas made much money during the war (the French Revolutionary war) and was spoken of as a man of very superior abilities, a great and fascinating speaker and an excellent companion. He was also, as John Marsh records in his Journal, a man of strong opinions and occasional testiness. Nevertheless, his letters also reveal a family man, with great affection for his children and a deep and enduring love for his wife, Mary. According to Edmund Sydney's diary, whilst at Gosport Thomas was on very intimate terms with Admiral Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke, brother of the Earl of Hardwick, who offered to be the godfather of his eldest son. 'My grandfather being a dissenter, however, objected to godfathers but named my father (Thomas Sydney) after him.' Thomas Williams makes several references, in his letters, to Capt. Yorke, which was obviously the rank he held whilst Thomas was at Gosport, where Thomas Sydney was born.
Thomas had two sisters; Rebecca, who married John Voke, a purser on H.M.S. Acteon in the Royal Navy, at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport, and Lydia, who married John Fenn. When John Voke died in 1823 he was recorded as living at Stoke Road, and Rebecca was living at Elliot Place, Bingham Town, near Gosport when she died in1835. She was a severe and uncompromising member of the Gosport Congregational Chapel and did not make herself popular with other members of the family. There are several references to her later in this narrative. There is no record of any children.
Lydia had three children with John Fenn. She died in 1791 and it seems likely that she died in childbirth as her youngest daughter, Rebecca, was born in the same year. John re-married, in 1793, Anne Jordan (Jourdain) with whom he had ten more children. He was one of the Directors of the old undenominational Missionary Society of London, the parent Society of the present London Missionary Society and the C.M.S. He was also one of the Founders of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Some biographical notes of the Fenn family describe him as being 'a very genial man and a model of the old English gentleman, besides being a true Christian.'
Thomas married Mary Marsh, (their wedding ceremony is described in detail later in this narrative), daughter of Capt. Henry Marsh R.N., amongst whose commands had been one of the royal yachts, H.M.S. Catherine, and who was later appointed to a shore station as one of the Captains at Greenwich Hospital. Her brother, John Marsh, (1752 - 1828) was a gifted amateur musician, composer, fiddle player, organist and writer on musical topics. His output of orchestral music was by far the most prolific of anyone in England in his time and he was the only English composer of the latter half of the 18th. century to write symphonies. He was also the author of a textbook on astronomy and during the invasion scare of 1803 he studied military tactics and achieved promotion to the rank of Captain with a company of volunteers. Towards the end of his life he took an interest in a movement established to convert the Jews to Anglican Christianity and in 1822 joined with several others to form a local auxiliary society of the same association, in which Mr Plumptre was chairman, he was treasurer and his brother William was also a member.
He kept an autobiographical diary which covered his entire life, from his birth in 1752 until a few days before his death in 1828. He began writing this diary in 1765, when he was only twelve, and the passages relating to his earlier life are based on memory. For instance, in a reference to his father he says, 'The most distant period of time to which my Recollection takes me back, is whilst we were resident here, when I well remember walking with my Father & Mother to Gosport (being then in Petticoats) & going to the Presbyterian Meeting there, where Mr Williams was Minister (my Mother being a Dissenter) ,,,' His friendship with Thomas Williams dates from at least their late 'teens and was later strengthened by bonds of marriage between the families. There are numerous references throughout the journals to the affairs of the Williams family; the earliest being in June 1771.
'The time allowed for my Vacation being now nearly expired, I on the 29th. went with Miss Wood who was going to spend some time with her Friend Mrs Clerke to Gosport on my way back to Romsey. Mrs Clerke being staying at Mrs Lennox's the Authoress at Westminster, we therefore on this day called & breakfasted with her there after which we all 3 went in Post Chaises to Gosport, which journey I must be so ungallant as to say was one of the most unpleasant ones I ever took, as besides Bandboxes innumerable that were to be stow'd withinside, Mrs C. had a Bird & a Squirrel in cages. ....... (Mrs Clerke was the wife of Capt. John Clerke RN, the eldest son of Joseph Clerke, of Wethersfield. He was knighted in 1772 and died in 1776. Lydia Clerke thus became Lady Clerke, by which name she is referred to thereafter. In 1790 she married the Rev. Joseph Townsend.)
On approaching Gosport Miss W. who had not been there since she came to Greenwich in 1769 (before which time she had been but little out of it & since had lost 2 of her best & most intimate Friends, Mrs Bedford & the Rev'd Mr Williams Dissenting Minister) was much affected & out of spirits 'till we at length arrived at Mrs C's Mother, (Mrs Hammond) where we were to stay, whose friendly Attention & Hospitality soon put us all to rights again. Here was staying the Mr Fielder of London (with whom I supp'd last summer just before setting off for Romsey in the Poole Machine) a relation of Mrs Hammonds with whom his Mother lived.
The next day (Sunday) we all went in the Afternoon to hear Mr Watson the Dissenting Minister, who succeeded Mr Williams (who was also a Relation of Mrs Hammonds) & were much pleased with his eloquent manner, & the more so as it was quite free from the common Cant of the Dissenting Ministers.' It is worth recording at this point the benign attitude that existed towards Dissenters. John Marsh makes frequent references to social occasions in which Mr Watson was included as, for instance,in January 1773, when 'I dined at my Mothers & drank tea with her at Mr Morgans, with .... [various friends] .... the other being Mr Watson the Dissenting Minister who succeeded Mr Williams, a very pleasant sensible Man & far less rigid in his principles & manners than the generality of people of that persuasion.' The Rev. David Bogue, James Watson's successor, was also very much part of the social scene, being a welcome guest of Thomas Williams, both at Gosport and, later, at Nottingham.
'My Bro'r Henry being now on board his Ship here, I took the opportunity of going to see him & bringing him on shore to dine at Mrs H's by her desire, with whom & Mr Thos Williams (son of the late dissenting Minister & Nephew of Mrs H.) Mr Fielder & his Brother (Attorney of Lymington) we all, on the 2nd. of July, took a Sail to Spithead & spent the Evening, with Mrs Hammond & the family, at Mr Bedford's, from whence I made an excursion between Tea & Supper time to the Concert at Portsmouth with Mr Fielder whom I introduced there.
The next day (July 3rd.) being fix'd for my departure to Romsey ....... I was routed up, with my Bro'r (who slept with me at Mrs Hammond's) between 4 & 5 in the Morn'g by Messr's Williams & Fielders, who with bats in their hands summon'd us to the Cricketfield where (as we agreed the Evening before) we played 'till 8 o'clock, when we return'd to Mrs H's for breakfast, imediately after which I took my leave & took a boat to Fareham.'
In Stuart times cricket had grown up obscurely and locally, in Hampshire and Kent, as a game of the common people but in the early eighteenth century it enlarged both its geographic and its social boundaries. Under the first rules established for the game, the two wickets each consisted of two stumps, only one foot high, about twenty-four inches apart, with a third stump, or bail, laid across them. The space between the stumps was known as the 'popping hole', into which the batsman had to thrust the end of his bat, before the wicket-keeper could 'pop' the ball into it at the risk of a nasty knock for his fingers. Cricket was designed for underarm bowling and, initially, the majority of bowlers relied on fast 'daisy cutters', which depended for their effectiveness on a combination of pace and the undulations of the pitch. If, as often happened, the ball passed between the stumps without hitting them, the batsman was not out. A notch was the term for a run, which was recorded by the primitive method of cutting a notch in a stick or a piece of wood, with a deeper notch for every tenth run. The bat was curved at the end like a hockey-stick.
The standard number of players on each side changed from twelve to eleven in the eighteenth century, though odds matches continued to be played with 16 or 22 on the weaker side. However matches were played between two players, and two, three, four or five a side right through the period. It would seem that the game described here was probably a two-a-side double wicket match. These were usually played as two innings a side, with the side scoring the most runs (notches) being the winner.
The Laws of Cricket were substantially revised in 1774, leading to changes such as abolishing the 'popping hole' and substituting a 'popping crease', behind which the bat had to be grounded, adding a third stump and raising the height of the wicket to 22 inches. An over comprised the delivery of four balls. The manner of bowling changed too, with the introduction of bowling to a line and length, still underarm, in which the ball only bounced once, instead of the usual fast 'daisy cutters'. The straight bat was soon adopted as a result of these innovations. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, bowlers were changing their style to high underarm lobs and batsman countered these by advancing down the wicket to hit the ball on the full toss. This led to the development of the round-arm technique, which was initially condemned as throwing but was eventually allowed as legitimate and by 1864 the law was changed again to allow the full overarm delivery.
On another occasion, in June 1773, John Marsh relates:- 'The King coming at this time to Portsmouth to review the Fleet at Spithead, for the 1st time of his so doing, it was so much talked of in the neighbourhood & was expected to be so grand a sight altogether, that I co'd not resist asking Mr Daman (the solicitor to whom he was articled) leave to go for one day ....... Accordingly on the 24th I sat out on horseback so early as to get to Gosport by ½ past 7, the King having arriv'd at Portsmouth to Dinner on the 22nd. Having put up my horse I ....... then went with Mrs Hammond up the Harbour & saw the King at Weovill Bridge, where on his landing all the Guns round the Works of Weovill & Gosport were fired. After this I dined early with Mr Watson the Dissenting Minister at Mr Gibson's, Mercer, & then went with him, Mr T.Williams & Mess'rs Porter Clem't, Wm, [John Marsh's brother], & Thos Sharp of Romsey & others in a Sailing Boat to Spithead, where his Majesty dined this day, after which the whole Fleet occasionally fired a Royal Salute, on some particular Toasts being drank, so that we were frequently involv'd in fire & smoke. As we had Provisions & Liquor with us, we made ourselves very merry & sung "God save the King", "Rule Brittania" & "Fame let thy Trumpet sound" in full chorus upon the Deck, particularly as we passed under the Stern of the Ship in which the King was.'
John Marsh was the eldest of five children; after him came Henry, Edward, Mary and William. The boys, (apart from John), all had careers in the Navy. Their mother died in 1759, as a consequence, according to John Marsh, that after the birth of William 'my Mother never enjoy'd her Health, owing as it was thought, to her breeding so fast.' He describes the aftermath of the funeral - 'As for me, with my Brothers & Sister, we were too young to have the least Idea of our Loss. When the Funeral was over we were all remov'd home again, in the Evening, being charg'd not to mention our late Mother, & were all 5 of us placed in a Semicircle upon the Matt in the Hall to eat our Suppers, during which my Father walked in & out from the Parlour looking upon us in melancholy Silence. My Sister however, being too young to attend to injunctions of this kind, & having of course no Idea of the reason for it, soon began to prattle about Mamma being in the Pit hole, on which my Father suddenly left us & did not appear more that Evening.' Mary was sent to live with one of her aunts at Dorking, the boys going to boarding school and being looked after when at home by Aunt Pratten, an older sister of their father's.
In 1769 Capt. Henry Marsh re-married; a widow named Mrs Hamilton, (whose daughter, Miss Wood, was mentioned earlier). Henry Marsh died in 1772, whilst Mary was still only sixteen. The reading of the Will created consternation and dismay. 'My Father being now no more, we next proceeded to the melancholy business of reading the Will (which my Mother now produc'd seal'd up) for which purpose we sent for our Friend Mr Cooke, who accordingly came soon after we had done breakfast. Tho' we of course co'd form no Idea of the Contents of the Will 'till we had heard it read, yet my Mother's [in fact, his father's second wife, and his stepmother] extreme anxiety to make it appear that she was totally ignorant of the purport of it, in some measure counteracted her assertions; & this was corroborated from the perusal, from which it appear'd that, after desiring to be buried in the plainest manner my Father had left everything he had to her unconditionally for Life, without even the charge of maintaining my Sister, to whom however such property was to go at her [Step] Mother's Death. The £200 also paid to Mr Daman on my being articled to him, was directed to be repaid to my Mother as soon as I came into possession of the Kentish Estate, which was the only mention of me in the Will, my Brothers not being mentioned at all. On finishing the perusal of it, Mr Cooke observ'd to my Mother that my Father's having made no provision for my Sister during her Mother in Law's [Stepmother's] Life, shew'd the very great confidence he had reposed in the latter, as he undoubtedly never co'd have meant that his Daughter sho'd go to the Parish, or to Service, but on the contrary that his Widow sho'd be a Mother to her just the same as if he had left her the Property under that express condition; in which my Mother seem'd readily to acquiesce, saying that she sho'd always consider her House as her proper home etc. or else wo'd give up the property. On attending Mr C. to the door myself, he told me he was much concem'd at the contents of the Will, which he was sure my Mother must have been privy to.' As will be seen later, her goodwill could not always be depended on.
For all these reasons, John Marsh always had a special concern for his sister, especially after the death of their father. She was extremely musical from a very early age; when she was only twelve her brother was 'inexpressibly pleased' with her proficiency on the Spinnet. Later in life she was a constant performer, as a pianist and also as a singer, at many of the musical parties and private concerts organised by John and his friends. Brother William was also 'found to be a very apt Scholar (when his father was persuaded to buy him a fiddle, at the age of 11) which afterw'ds did me [elder brother, John,] much credit, as he had always a good Ear. He also began learning the German Flute by Ear about the same time on which Instrum't he also afterwards made considerable proficiency.' Despite suffering from hearing problems for much of his life William became an accomplished musician on the violin but the other two brothers had little musical talent or inclination.
In October 1771 Marsh recounts a painful experience suffered by his sister, then aged fifteen. 'About this time I had a letter from my Father acquainting me of their return to Greenwich from Gosport & of their surprize at seeing my Sister in their way to Dorking, who had a Tumour at the side of her Neck of a considerable size, in consequence of which they took her with them to Greenwich to have it inspected by the Faculty of the Hospital, where having in vain attempted to disperse it, it was at length judged expedient that it sho'd be opened, to attend which operation my Aunt Marsh was sent for from Dorking, as my (step)Mother declar'd she co'd not be in the room at the time.. When however the time came & the Faculty made their appearance for the operation, no less than 4 of them, my Aunt it seems took fright & ran off with the rest, on which my Sister said she did not wish for anybody to be with her, & submitted her Neck to the knife with great Fortitude & Heroism, seeming to be by no means daunted at the preparations made for the operation, which (as it was necessary to take the bag containing the matter clean out) lasted near 10 minutes.'
In June 1777, the tumour recurred, but on this occasion Marsh is rather more nonchalant in his account. 'In the course of this Summer my Sister had another Tumour in her neck which having at length increas'd to a large size was open'd by Mr Dennis the Surgeon, who attended her for a considerable time, for which I paid him 10 Guineas.'
John Marsh married Elizabeth Brown in November 1774 but part of the baggage that came with her was her dissolute brother, (always referred to as Mr Brown, a curious formality he applied to everyone, including his wife; the only exceptions being his brothers, his children, nephews and nieces, and his servants). An account of the life of Mr Brown has been written elsewhere, under the title of The Saga of Mr Brown. After their marriage, the Marshes rented a large house in Romsey, which being larger than they wanted, they agreed to share with his wife's parents, Dr. and Mrs Brown. In April 1775, Mr Brown, who had been staying with his parents, had a bad accident, falling off his horse, coming home 'in woeful plight with his Head bound up, 4 of his front Teeth broke & the tip of his Tongue ....... nearly bitten off.
Of those who sympathiz'd with Mr B. in his Misfortune, I believe none felt more than my Sister, [who had been staying with them for a while], between whom & the young Gent'n there had been for some time a pretty smart flirtation going on, which was doubtless much favor'd by their being in the same House, tho' in different families, as accidental Rencontres wo'd frequently happen upon the Staircase etc. besides which on most Evenings when the 2 families happen'd not to be engaged together, or at the same party, Mr B. was sure to call in with some trifling Message from Dr. or Mrs B. or to speak with me etc. which of course bro't on an invitation to stay to Supper; tho' neither Mrs M. or I co'd have had the least reason to favor or promote the Courtship ourselves; my Sister having nothing during her (step)Mother's Lifetime & Mr B. being of a very expensive & by no means of a domestic turn & not likely at present to settle himself in any steady way of business, tho' he (being now admitted an Attorney) now & then practis'd a little as it happen'd to suit him.'
A few weeks later 'I rece'd a Letter from Mr B. expressing his regard for my Sister & offering to pay his addresses to her, which I rejected as civilly as I co'd & immediately wrote to inform my Mother of the necessity of her being removed from us. This I had hinted at in a former Letter to her, when I pointed out the expediency of her returning to Gosport, but it not being convenient to my Mother, as she s'd then to receive her, she wrote back immediately rather warmly to say that the Invitation must come from her, which would be as it suited her convenience & not before; thereby giving me to understand that (notwithstanding her professions on my Father's Death) my Sister's residence with her was to be consider'd as a matter of favor, not of right.
On hearing however of this Declaration of Mr B's (who was no favorite of hers) she tho't proper to say she sho'd be glad to receive her again. Mrs M. & I therefore on the 29th (May) went with her in Post Chaise to Southton (Southampton) ....... from whence, Mrs M. returning in the Chaise to Romsey, I accomp'd my sister to Gosport in the Hoy.
Having left her there & had a long Conversation with my Mother, I the next day return'd in the Hoy to Southton, drank tea at Mr D's (Daman's) & rode his Horse to Romsey.'
Two years later, in March 1777, Marsh writes; 'My sister being now on a visit at Dr. & Mrs Dobsons, Liverpool (the latter of whom took her down with her from London last Spring) I, on 29th. rece'd a Letter from a Mr Michael Hamer a young Merchant there, the youngest Brother to the Mr Hamer that married Miss Wood, (the daughter of his stepmother), with proposals to pay his addresses to my Sister. As however she wo'd have nothing at all 'till her Mother's Death & Mr Hamer co'd not afford to marry her without a portion (which it was not then in my power to give her) the matter went off & Mrs Dobson soon afterwards going to London took my Sister with her.'
The reprobate Mr Brown had also not entirely given up hope. Having failed to make any kind of career in the Law, his father had bought him a commission as a Lieutenant in the Army but this, too, ended disastrously, and he was obliged to resign his commission, 'soon after which [in 1780] by way of settling himself as he said, he made a Second offer to my Sister ....... which she rejecting he wrote her rather a cavalier Letter & said he sho'd be at the ensuing Races at Sarum, if his presence wo'd not, she thought, contaminate the air of the place; which scheme he accordingly put in execution & called at our house the Evening of his arrival & sat chatting with my Sister & us as if nothing had happen'd. He also at going back to the Inn, where he had order'd a bed for that night hinted at coming to take up his abode with us the next day. Not however approving of this whilst my Sister was in the house I went to him before breakfast at the Inn the next Morn'g & told him that upon the terms my Sister & he then were, I co'd by no means think it proper that they sho'd be both staying in the same house, but that to prevent any inconvenience to him I wo'd discharge his Expences at the Inn for the few days he meant to stay, .......'
Eventually, however, there was a happy ending. In April 1783, Marsh recounts:
'I must now relate a circumstance that happen'd a few weeks before, viz. a visit from Mr Thos Williams, Mercer of Gosport (Son of the late Dissenting Minister there & nephew of our Acquaintance Mrs Hammond there) who about a week or two after I return'd home from Chichester & Gosport in February, came to anounce himself the accepted Admirer of my Sister (which it seems had been settled between them previous to my being at Gosport) & requesting my concurrence, & presence at the Wedding to give her away etc. As my Sister was now 26 Years old & wo'd have no fortune 'till after her Mother's Death, [actually, her stepmother but, as mentioned earlier, John Marsh always referred to his father's second wife, (though by this time, his widow) as his, or her, mother] & as Mr Williams was a Man of good Character & in a very good & respectable way of business, the only objection I co'd have to this Union was the difference of Religion, Mr Williams being a Dissenter. I however found it needless to start any difficulty on this head (in respect to Children) as it seems every thing was settled between themselves, independent of my concurrence.'
Despite the reservations he expresses here, it is not clear when John Marsh abandoned the non-conformist faith in which he had been brought up. He would still attend, on occasion, services at Congregational and Methodist Meetings and a strong suspicion lingers that he was attracted more by the musical element of traditional services, especially those available in a Cathedral, than by the religious orientation. John Brewer, in his book The Pleasures of the Imagination, comments that 'Marsh's choice of residences - in Salisbury, outside Canterbury and in Chichester - underscores the importance he attached to music, for these cathedral cities, with their choirs, grand organs and snug 'society' gathered around a cathedral close, had the best environments for music to flourish in.' Brewer also observes that 'In the struggle between organist and evangelical, the organist triumphed. Marsh's religious fervour came to him late in life, much prompted by his clerical son; his more deeply rooted passion for music had been with him since childhood.'
As was noted earlier, his father, Henry, had become a Dissenter and both his sister Mary and his younger brother, Edward, were baptised in the Gosport Independent Chapel by the Rev. Thomas Williams, so perhaps this might have been the channel through which Mary met Thomas Williams.
'The time of the Wedding being therefore fix'd for the middle of April, which was about the time I thought of going to Nethersole (where I meant to go a week or 2 before Mrs M. & the Child etc. in order to put up my Organ & get the House ready for their reception) I told Mr Williams I wo'd take Gosport in my way there, & accordingly on Tuesday the 15th. went in the Coach from Sarum (Salisbury) to Gosport, where in the Even'g at my Mother's I met my Brother Will'm who having been that day paid off in the Andromache, had taken a parting Dinner & Glass of Wine at the Crown with his Captain & Brother Officers, was in such high Spirits that he wo'd scarce let anyone talk but himself & wo'd not let my Sister & I sing anything together without his joining & spoiling the whole.
The next day we all dined & spent the Even'g at Mr Williams's in Middle Street, to whose House my Sister's Piano Forte was remov'd, that we might have a little Music in the Evening, the placing of which being directed by my Mother seemed much to disconcert old Mrs Williams, to whom it might probably appear as beginning to direct a little too soon. After Supper nothing wo'd do but I must sing the Vicar & Moses, which I used to do some Years ago at Greenwich etc. before I married. As however old Mrs Williams was rather particular & very rigid in her opinion (as was Mr W's elder Sister) [this was Rebecca Voke, whose severity and unpopularity in the family is commented on elsewhere] I fought it off as long as I possibly co'd pleading not recollecting the Words etc. but Mr W. putting the printed Copy before me I co'd no longer get off & therefore taking a little M.S. Book of Songs out of my pocket in which the words of this Song were better arranged than in the printed Copy he gave me, I sung it to them, leaving out however the most exceptionable Verses'
The Vicar and Moses was a ribald song of 17 verses about a drunken Vicar and his Clerk, Spintext, who sought out the Vicar late one evening, at his pub, to try and persuade him to come to the churchyard to bury the corpse of a young child. Marsh first heard the song, and learnt it, in May 1772 and records performing it a few times within the next year as he says 'before I married', when it was sung in the company of friends who were all 'in high spirits' or 'very merry'. On the occasion of his wedding, Thomas Williams seems to have been the instigator for it to be performed but it is hard to think of something less suited to the celebration of an impending marriage.
'The next Morning (April 7th.) the Ceremony was duly perform'd at Gosport Chapel, [according to the I.G.I., this was Gosport Holy Trinity and not the Independent Chapel], after which Mr & Mrs Williams & his younger Sister Lydia sat off in a Post Chaise for London, where they were to arrive the follow'g night, but stopping the first night at Farnham & the next at Windsor, they did not arrive in London 'till the 3rd Evening. In the Morning previous to the Ceremony, a Circumstance however happen'd that had like to have much disconcerted some of the parties, viz. the Loss of the Wedding Ring, which Mr W. on looking for early in the Morning co'd not find, after at least an hour's search, on which he was going out to procure another, but recollecting that it was handed about the Evening before after Supper & that Mr Fielder the Attorney (who made the Settlement & was staying in the House) had amongst others, tried it on, he went to his Room to ask if he had not got it, when he discover'd it on his little finger where it had remain'd ever since the Evening before unnotic'd by him. On this curious circumstance being afterwards mention'd, Miss Lydia Williams said she sho'd have been very uneasy if the Ring had not been found again, "not that she was at all superstitious."
On a visit to London in May, John Marsh called on the Williams's, 'breakfasting with my Sister & Mr Williams, who were now in Lodgings in Surrey Street. The next Morning I came to Town from Kensington with Mrs M. & went with the Williams's to bespeak Paper for our new Drawing Room etc. at Nethersole & Linen etc. which Mr Williams got for us at the wholesale price, after which we dined with them with them in Surrey Street & went in the Even'g to the Exhibition.'
John Marsh inherited Nethersole in July 1781, on the death of Mr Winchester, but did not take up residence immediately because of the need to put the estate and buildings into good repair and condition. For this reason he decided to remain at Salisbury for a year or two longer and eventually moved in 1783, immediately after the wedding of his sister and Thomas Williams. In August 1784 he writes 'Having now been 15 Months amongst an entire new sett of acqaintances, we began to feel a desire to see some of our old ones again & particularly to go & see the Williams's who were now remov'd from Gosport to Queen Street Portsea, (then called Portsmouth Common) & who had given us repeated Invitations.' According to Robert Hudson, (see letter dated 7th July 1989) this was probably No. 2, at the bottom end of Queen's road on Portsea Island in part of the parish of Kingston in what would now be called Portsea. The numbering starts at the water's edge, the Williams paying rates of over £100 per year, including a landing (presumably a landing stage), and the road runs east up to Kingston Church and right alongside the dockyard.
Having arrived at Gosport, they 'in the Afternoon went in the Diligence to Portsmouth Common to my Sister's, whom with her Husband we found both very well & settled in a comfortable House in Queen Street, Portsea in which he had a good & well stock'd Shop & seem'd to be in a good way of business.
Robert Hudson wrote me a letter dated 7th February 1989 in which he said 'Kingston is a parish on Portsea Island. Thomas lived in Queen Street (the street leading to where H.M.S. Victory is now docked). He paid the highest rates, bar one, in the whole of Portsea, as far as I can tell, over £100 a year. The rate book in about 1788-9 talks about a landing, which I suggest may mean a landing stage.' In a later letter, dated 7th July 1989, 'They (Thomas and Mary) lived at the bottom end of Queen's Road on Portsea Island in part of the Parish of Kingston in what would now be called Portsea. I have been told that the number of the house was number 2, but although this sounds reasonable. as it is by the water, and they paid rates on a landing, I have not managed to check the number. The numbering starts at the water's edge and the road runs east up to Kingston Church and right alongside the Dockyards'.
The next day Mr Presland, Lieut't of the Goliath, a very pleasant young Man & intimate Friend of Mr Williams's, spent the Evening with us, as he did again on Friday the 20th, when in the Afternoon, Mr Williams, he & I went & had a game at Fives, with Racquets, at the Tennis Court at the Halfway Houses.
Having now settled a plan for going to the Isle of Wight with the Williams's, Mrs M., Mr Presland & Miss Stewart, on Tuesday the 24th. we all went in one of the Boats of the Goliath, row'd by 6 Blacks, & landed at Ryde, where we took a P. Chaise, & 3 Ponies on the latter of which Mrs M., Mr W. & I rode, the other 2 Ladies & Mr P. going in the Chaise, he having only black silk Galligaskins on, which wo'd not do to ride in. On however coming to Newport (where we dined) Mr W. borrow'd a pair of Nankeens for him, of a Gent'n of his acquaintance, that in future the 3 Ladies might go in the Chaise.
The next Morning we hired a Chaise & 3 Saddle Horses to go to Steephill & round to the Priory, from whence we meant to embark again for Portsmouth, but finding our Bill at the Inn to be very exorbitant, we determin'd on managing better & being more economical etc. the 2nd day.' They spent the day sightseeing on the island and on the way to St. Helens 'we bought a Neck of Mutton & Cucumbers, as we thought it possible we might meet with scarcely any provisions we co'd eat at the Inn where we proposed dining. On going from hence we found we were not likely to profit by our management, for the Woman of the House acknowledg'd she had no Meat in house, yet she Charg'd just as much for the dressing as if she had provided the whole, & ran us up quite as extravagant a Bill, in proportion to what we had as they co'd have done at the principal Inn at Newport, tho' the House at St. Helens was scarcely better than an Alehouse. My Landlady also, on our demurring at the payment became very turbulent to Mr W. who staid behind to settle the Bill, & appeal'd to a couple of Smugglers in the Kitchen there, who being very ill looking Men, he thought it best to comply with her demand & get away as fast as he co'd.
At the Priory, we went over Sir Nash Groses & got some tea there during which I began to be very impatient for embarking for Portsmouth as the Wind (which was by no means favorable) began to rise, & the Evening to close in apace, besides which the Tide was getting less & less in our favor, in consequence of which we ought it seems, to have set out at least ½ an hour sooner than we did, which was not 'till 7 o'clock. Our 6 Blacks however (whom we found waiting with the Boat when we arriv'd) pull'd away & soon got us out to Sea, tho' the Surf ran very high; but we seem'd afterwards to make but little progress, the Ships at Spithead at a great distance before us, seeming to retreat as we advanced. As our Voyage was likely to be attended with some difficulty & to be rather tedious, Mr Presland took the helm himself, & seem'd to evince much address in spiriting up the Rowers; telling them at every gust of Wind or Squall that came on, to pull away in order to stem it & prevent being driven back & whenever it became still again (or there was a Lull as he call'd it) they were then to pull to take the advantage of it, & get on whilst they co'd so that whether it blew hard or slacken'd it made no difference to the poor Blackies, who were to keep pulling as hard as they co'd. As to our feelings etc. at this time, my Sister sat with her Head hanging down & Eyes shut without speaking a word, but more, I believe from a qualmissness she was always subject to on the Water than from fear. Neither was Mrs M. at all inclin'd to be loquacious & only spoke now & then to reprove Mr W. for what she thought illtimed Wit, on the apparent Jeopardy of our Situation. As to myself, I must confess I did not feel perfectly at ease, & co'd not help thinking of the Boat that had been driven out to Sea in the preceeding Week (which also occurr'd to Mrs M.) & began to inquire whether it wo'd not be most prudent for us to return to the Island & get what accomodation we co'd rather than persist in vainly buffeting the Elements 'till Darkness surrounded us, but this being now I found likely to be attended with as much difficulty as proceeding homewards, the latter was undoubtedly to be preferr'd. As Mr Presland knew some of the Officers of the 1st Ship at Spithead that we were to pass, he said we sho'd then borrow a Boats Crew to relieve ours, to which the Blacks then made no reply, but when it was again mention'd to them when to our great satisfaction we at length began to approach they said there was no occasion to as they co'd hold out very well themselves the whole way, on which Mr W. promised they sho'd have some good cheer as soon as we got to Portsmouth, where they safely landed us soon after the 9 o'clock Gun had fired.
On settling our Accounts the next day, we found that for 2 days pleasure (including one night only) tho' we were at no expence going & returning to & from the Island, yet the whole expence came to upwards of £9, or £3 apiece for Mess'rs Williams, Presland & myself; Miss Stewart on our slightly objecting to her paying a share, at once taking us at our word, which was rather hard on Mr Presland, as Mr W. & I had at any rate a full 3rd. part each to pay for our Wives & selves.
The next Afternoon (Saturday the 28th.) we went with the Williams's & Lieut't Ferries, who dined with us, & Mr Presland (whom we called on & took in at the Goliath in our way) to Portchester where we drank tea & had a very rough Sail back, but being now within the Harbour did not much mind it.'
In February 1785 the Williamses visited the Marshes at Nethersole. On the 14th. 'the Ladies went in the Coach & Mr Williams & I on horseback to Dover, in our road to which Mr W. was surprized & much pleas'd with a sudden view of the Sea & Coast of France beyond it, it being a very fine & clear day. At Dover, we of course explor'd the Castle & Cliff; from whence we return'd to dinner at the Ship after which Mr W. & the Ladies went smuggling, some Articles of which we brought back to Nethersole in the Evening.' This is an interesting anecdote. On a later occasion, Marsh mentions problems he had had with his manservant, Robert, who had taken to drink 'in consequence of the opportunities Servants in East Kent had of getting Smuggled Spirits at a cheap rate.'
Smuggling at this time was widespread and open, taking advantage of a demand for heavily-taxed luxury goods and the state's almost total inability to collect those taxes. This universal involvement in the 'free-trade', as it was euphemistically and generally known, covers all manner of people, embracing not only the mariner whose boat actually transported the goods across the water, but also the wealthy landowner who supplied the capital for the operation, and the thug who protected the cargo as it came inland.
A year later, in February 1786, the Marshes visited Chichester and Portsmouth again and went to see 'the Williams's at Portsea who were now remov'd to a new, handsome much larger House than they had before (from which it was only a few doors) which Mr Williams had bought cheap of a Mr Mitchell who had been in the same way of business with himself but was become a Bankrupt. We learn from the flyleaf of the Bible in which their eldest son, Thomas Sydney, recorded his family details, that this was 118, Queen Street; it would seem likely that they had moved there in early 1785. This was also probably the house in which Henry was born in 1792.
I have referred earlier to suggestions by Robert Hudson. Robert was an indefatigable researcher but later evidence suggests some flaws in his statements. First, we did not at that time have access to the John Marsh Journals. Secondly, in September 2012 I made some enquiries at the Portsmouth History Centre. This showed that in 1775 an 'Eliz. Tremaine' lived at 119, Queen Street. The Rate books for Portsea for 24th June 1785 showed that 'Widow Tremaine' lived next door to Thomas Williams, which suggests that Thomas was already resident at 118, Queen Street in 1785. Further, the rate book for October 1789 shows that Thomas was paying additional rates for 'back chamber; stable and landry'. I have interpreted this as 'laundry' but it certainly wasn't a 'landing stage'.
On Saturday the 5th we all went to Gosport Meeting in the Morning, after which we called on my Mother. In the Afternoon we went to St. George's Chapel & in the Evening to hear a Mr Moon at the Methodist Meeting.' John Marsh's religious orientation has been commented on earlier but this seems a strange assortment of services to attend in one day.
On their way home to Nethersole, the Marshes travelled to London in company with Thomas Williams and during the visit they 'dined at Mr Fenn's (who had lately married Mr Williams's younger Sister & where Mr Williams was now staying.)'
Later that year, in June, Marsh relates; 'My Sister having been in a low way lately, on account of having since we were with them in February, lost her little Girl & only Child (who was then in rather a delicate state of Health) Mr Williams promis'd her a Jaunt to London to meet us at this time & to go with us to to one of the Abbey Performances,' (of concerts in commemoration of Handel) 'which were now to be repeated. Accordingly they arriv'd a day or 2 before us, at Mr Fenn's in George Yard Lombard Street from whence in the Even'g of our arrival my Sister called on us, when the 2 Ladies imediately thinking of their respective Losses, were both overset & went to crying, but after a few Minutes recover'd & talk'd of other things 'till it was time for my Sister to return to George Yard, to which I accompanied her.' The child that Mary Williams had lost was Mary; b. 3rd December 1784, d. 19th April 1786. In fact, their second child, Thomas Sydney had been born before Mary's death; on 11th February 1786. The Marshes had also lost a daughter, from dropsy, in January; Kitty, who was not quite five years old, 'being the only Girl we had ever had.'
All of Thomas and Mary's first six children were christened at the Gosport Chapel and all by the Rev. David Bogue. By the time the fourth child, John, was baptised in April 1789 they had moved from Portsea to the parish of Kingston (Hants), where they still were in January 1794 when the sixth child, Joseph, was christened.
Towards the end of 1786, John Marsh heard of the death of his brother Edward in Jamaica, then captain of the Bulldog sloop. He had fallen off his horse and suffered a simple fracture of the leg, which was well set and seemed at first to be healing satisfactorily when, after three weeks, he contracted lockjaw and died within a few days.
'Soon after this I had a Letter from Mr Williams informing me that by an Officer just come from Jamaica, he was inform'd that my Brother had left a natural Son there, of about a Year & a half old, whom out of respect to his Father, he felt inclined to have brought to England, which he proposed having done imediately & supporting him between us. Not however then knowing the circumstances of the Case, I must confess I at first rather demurr'd at this under the Idea of its being a common Bastard, that co'd not be certainly authenticated to be his, & that probably might be fathered upon him in consequence of his Death. On however afterw'ds finding that the Mother really lived with my Brother (as, what is called, a West India Wife) & had certainly cohabited with no other person during that time; I not only consented but wish'd to cooperate with Mr Williams in providing for the Child, especially as it seem'd that my Brother had intended taking him with him to England, had he liv'd, the first time he came. At the same time (or soon afterwards) Mr Williams inform'd me that, with Money left & Wages due to him at his Death, my Brother had left altogether about £200 which as he had left no Will wo'd come to my Brothers, Sister & I, on our administering to his Effects, which however we all agreed to give up for the Maintenance & bringing up of the Infant, & which was therefore received by Mr Williams.'
By the middle of 1785 John Marsh decided that he could not afford the upkeep of Nethersole and the social round that went with it. He eventually settled on moving to Chichester, partly because it was a large cathedral town but also because of its proximity to the Williams's at Portsea. He finally left Nethersole for Chichester in April 1787 and shortly after his arrival 'I went to Portsea in the Mail Coach & on the following Morning, went with the Williams's & Mrs M. to Gosport Meeting (to hear Mr Bogue).'
It is perhaps appropriate here to comment in more detail on the succession at Gosport Congregational Chapel after the death of the Rev. Thomas Williams, which was briefly alluded to in the account of the latter's life. James Watson, who followed him, was the son of James Watson DD and had studied at the Homerton Academy 'but having been devoted to the profession of the Christian ministry by the partiality of his father, as was too frequently the case at that period, there is reason to fear that he entered upon its sacred duties simply to fulfil the requirements of the profession in which he was engaged, and destitute of that devout preference for his work, and for that elevation of soul in it, which are indispensable to a successful discharge of the ministry amongst Protestant Dissenters.' (This contrasts with the admiration expressed by John Marsh for his 'eloquent manner the more so as it was quite free from the common Cant of the Dissenting Ministers.' and for being 'far less rigid in his principles & manners than the generality of people of that persuasion.') 'The congregation very naturally, therefore, became dissatisfied with his services, and a large number of the members separated from his charge, and invited Mr English, afterwards of Wooburn, Bucks to minister to them. In a short time Mr Watson became altogether dissatisfied with his own ministerial character, and resigned it, (in 1776), to prosecute the study of the law.' In 1780 he became a barrister; in 1787, a serjeant at law and about the same time Recorder of the Corporation of Bridport, Dorsetshire, subsequently becoming one of its representatives in Parliament. He was knighted in 1795 when he succeeded Sir W. Jones as one of his Majesty's Justices of the Supreme Court of Judicature, at Fort William in Bengal, India.
'It should be recorded to the honour of Sir James Watson's principles and feelings, that his new connections did not obliterate from his memory former times, for it was his practice, whenever his family increased, to visit, with his lady, their old friends in Hampshire, and then to present their offspring for public baptism at the hands of his immediate successor, Dr Bogue. When he with his lady were about to embark for India, they worshipped for the last time with his former charge at Gosport. Dr Bogue then solicited Sir James's protection for the Missionaries who might be sent to Bengal, and the Judge replied, "Certainly, if they keep to their proper business, religion, and do not interfere with political affairs." (A fairly scathing assessment of the activities of missionaries in India is given in a separate appraisal of James Watson's life.) Sadly, shortly after his arrival in Calcutta, on 27th February 1797, he contracted a fever and died on 2nd May, in his fifty first year.'
In the early 1790's a number of non-conformist ministers were becoming preoccupied with the notion of converting the heathen to Christianity and the first to form a Society to achieve this end were the Baptists in 1792. In the same year David Bogue preached a leading sermon on the subject at Salter's Hall in London and in 1794 he wrote a paper recommending missions to the heathen, which was published in the Evangelical Magazine. On 22nd September 1795 the London Missionary Society was formed, of which David Bogue was a leading member. Other Societies with similar aims followed, including the Church Missionary Society in 1799.
Reverting to John Marsh, 'On Tuesday the 26th. (June 1787) my Sister came to see us with her Maid & little Boy.' This was Thomas Sydney; b. 11th February 1786. They were joined later by Thomas Williams and visited together some old friends of the Marshes, Eliza and William Hayley, the poet, at Eartham. 'The Weather being then very fine, Mr W. in particular was in raptures with the Grounds, the nature of which co'd so little be guessed at from any part of the approach to them, that Strangers co'd not but be much surprized & highly gratified with the Beauty & Variety of them (tho' far from extensive) & the fine open Sea View that suddenly burst in upon them, which was the less to be expected from their hardly being sensible of any Ascent.'
At the end of the year, in November, John Marsh was due to go to East Kent to collect the rents due on his estates there and was pressed by Thomas Williams to go to London by way of Portsmouth 'in order to take the opportunity of meeting Capt. Hutt of the Navy at his Home who had been very kind in superintending the settling my poor Brother Edward's Affairs in Jamaica (the Account of which & of the Cash & Effects left by him he had just brought over to England & left with Mr Williams). I therefore went with my Sister on the Tuesday Afternoon (the 27th.) in the Mail Coach to her House, where we met Capt. Hutt, who spent the Evening & slept at Mr Williams's, from whence, on the follow'g day I went to London in the Diligence.'
Captain John Hutt commanded H.M.S. Queen in Lord Howe's action of 'The Glorious First of June, 1794.' He was killed in the battle, whilst Captain James Montagu, commanding H.M.S. Montagu and Captain John Harvey, commanding H.M.S. Brunswick, died of their wounds. James Montagu, son of Admiral Montagu was a contemporary of John Marsh's at school; further reference to John Harvey will be made later. All three are commemorated by monuments in Westminster Abbey; now truncated from their original size and transferred elsewhere - Montagu to the west end and Harvey and Hutt, on a joint memorial, to one of the window ledges of the north aisle.
In the autumn of 1787, Thomas Williams had taken John Marsh's cousin, John, as an apprentice in his business but the arrangement did not turn out well. The story is best told in John Marsh's own words.
'Having been now being travelling about for near a Month at the most inclement Season of the Year I was not sorry at being set down again for some time, as I thought, at my own fireside with all my family about me, whom however I was under the necessity of leaving again the 3d. day after my return (tho' but for a very short time) upon the following occasion. My Cousin John Marsh, whom Mr. Williams took Apprentice as before mention'd in the Autumn went on very well for the 1st. Month or 2 after which he began to get tired of the Confinement & to absent himself from the Shop occasionally, on which he had had some Words with Mr. Williams, as my Aunt had lately inform'd me in London. On the 2d. day after my return home however I received a letter from Mr W. to say that he & his Apprentice were come to an open rupture; the latter having besides absent'g himself as before mentioned taken Money of his to the amount of £20 and upwards from the Till; in consequence of which he desired that she wo'd take him away again & that the Articles between them might be cancell'd. She therefore beg'd, that I wo'd immediately go over to Portsea & enquire into the matter & pay Mr Williams the £10 then just due to her of my Allowance, in part of his Loss by her Son, the remainder of which I was to endeavour to ascertain. Accord'gly on Sunday the 23d. (Dec. 1787) in the Afternoon I went in the Mail Coach to Mr. Williams's, where I had much talk with him & my Cousin, whom I found had not gone on well together for sometime past, the latter having soon began to complain of the confinement of the Shop, & to dislike the Business, & instead of going to Church or Meeting on a Sunday Afternoon & Evening as the other young Men usually did, used to take that opportunity of going to some Public House (not always of the best character) the Expences attending which being much beyond what his finances wo'd afford, he was induced to take Money occasionally from the Shop Till, which in the whole (as Mr W. had reason to suspect) amounted to about £20. To considerable part of this my Cousin pleaded Guilty, tho' he denied the amount of what he took being so great, & attempted a lame excuse by saying that he consider'd it as so much borrowed (tho' without leave) & to be restor'd at a future time. As however, to the matter of not always attending to the Business & submitting to the confinements as the other young Men did, he said that his Wish had always been for a Seafaring Life, & that he was sure he sho'd never feel happy & comfortable in any other profession, & sho'd have gone to Sea 2 or 3 Years before, had not his Mother always opposed it. At present therefore Mr W. & I both agreed that the only thing to be done was for him to return to his Mother (or some temporary situation provided for him by her) to whom we both afterwards urg'd in the strongest terms, the necessity of her conquering her prejudices to the Sea Service, & of bestirring herself in looking out for some situation as a Mate, in the Mercantile Line (he being too old to begin serving his time as a Midshipman in the Royal Navy) as soon as possible. These matters being adjusted the Indentures cancell'd, & having paid Mr. Williams the £10 due to my Aunt at this time, in part of his Loss, I on the next Morning returned in the Mail Coach to Chichester, where, there having come on a deep Snow the night before, we did not arrive 'till after 12 o'clock.'
In April 1788 'Thursday the 17. being my Sister's Wedding Day, we spent the principal part of it in a jaunt to Stanstead (Mr Barwell's) to which my Sister & I went in a Post Chaise, & Mr Williams (who came over to us the day before) with my Bro'r Henry, on horseback. Being arriv'd at the House we all went over it, after which being directed to a seat in the Grounds called Lumley Seat, Henry (who walked on with the Ladies, whilst Mr W. & I were settling with the Servants who attended us about the House) undertook to pilot them, when coming to a small Building behind some Trees, that he said must he supposed be Lumley Seat, on which opening the door, what sho'd appear but the inside of a Cloacina, or common Garden Parlour, to the great delight of Mr Williams who was just behind, who afterwards rallied Henry finely upon his pilotage to Lumley Seat, which however was soon arrived at.'
Later, there were more mishaps, with Henry falling off his horse, being 'rather a Sea Horseman' & Marsh's horse dumping him in some water. 'This of course afforded my facetious Bro'r in Law another opportuntiy of expressing his Risible faculties, in which the Ladies also & Henry join'd, laughing most unmercifully at poor pilgarlic, who had been quite over one Boot in the Water.'
In July 1788, Marsh relates; 'The Williams's having desired that the 2 Boys & I wo'd go & spend a few days with them ....... I accordingly went with them on Tuesday Morning the 15h. ....... At my Sisters I found my little Nephew Edw'd (Son of my deceas'd Brother) who had arrived there on the day before, having been brought from Jamaica, with a Miss Hodgkinson, a little older than him, by Captain Countess of the Navy. On seeing him I was much struck with his resemblance (as I thought) to my Brother Edw'd when he was a Child; he being then just 4 Years old, [shouldn't this be 3 years old?] having, as we found, been born on the 2d. of July 1785 & christen'd at Port Royal on May 25. 1788 (just before he was brought away) by the name of Edward Thomas. Both he & the little Girl then made but an uncouth appearance, being dress'd according to the taste of the Country they came from, but which was now soon alter'd by my Sister for a better. ......
My Brother Edward having left about £200 as before mention'd, it was settled before we left Portsea that Mr Williams sho'd take the use of that Money & account for the Interest of it, at 5 per Ct. towards bringing up our little Nephew just arrived (who was to remain with him & my Sister) in addition to which we each of us agreed to add 5 Guineas a Year, 'till he was old enough to be placed out Apprentice or otherwise.' In fact, it would seem that the little boy was virtually adopted by Thomas and Mary Williams, accompanying them to Nottingham when they moved there in 1794, being made an apprentice in Thomas's hosiery business in 1800, working in the warehouse and, later, after Thomas's death in 1804, undertaking sales journeys for the business in the South. Unhappily, he also became involved in its developing financial problems, together with his cousin, Thomas Sydney, which lead to them both being censured by a meeting of the Castle Gate Chapel and required to resign their membership.
Marsh records that on Monday 8th March 1790 'Mr Green, Stocking Manufacturer of Nottingham came to stay 2 or 3 days at Mr Williams's.' One can surmise, perhaps, that he was then a supplier to Thomas Williams's business in Gosport and, as will emerge later, persuaded Thomas some years afterwards to go into partnership with him at Nottingham.
In May of the same year, as Marsh tells us, other events were afoot; 'About this time began the Rupture with Spain about Nootka Sound, which occasion'd a long Negotiation & great hostile preparations, which however at length ended pacifically, to the great dissapointment of many Naval Officers who had been at some expence in fitting themselves out for an Expedition against the Spaniards, amongst whom was my Brother Henry, who was appointed 1st. Lieut't of the Arrogant (74 Gun Ship) command'd by his Friend Capt Harvey of Sandwich, in which he was station'd about 3 Months at Spithead, Torbay etc, in the Grand Fleet. As for my Brother Will'm he on acco't of his Deafness did not apply for any appointment of that kind, as he found great inconvenience when last employ'd from making mistakes on acco't of not hearing Orders distinctly; he therefore got appointed Lieut't to his Friend Capt Glasford upon the Impress Service at Norwich & Yarmouth.'
Nootka Sound is an inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In 1789 the Spanish, who claimed a trade and settlement monopoly over the region, seized four British trading vessels. The ensuing demand for redress quickly developed into a major incident between the two countries, war being only narrowly averted.
The whole Marsh family spent Christmas with the Williams's at Portsea that year and 'On Monday the 27. Mr Bogue the Dissenting Minister of Gosport & his Lady dined with us on the Morning.'
In January 1791, Marsh had a letter from his brother-in-law 'informing us of my Sister & Sydney Williams (who was always a very delicate Child) being both very ill, of whom however we in a few days had a better account.' She had also been dangerously ill on the birth of her daughter Lydia in January 1788.
Thomas Williams comes over as a man of strong opinions in Marsh's Journal and he recounts an episode that occurred in December 1792. 'There being at this time a great spirit of Republicanism & Levelling prevalent all over the Kingdom, kept up by the corresponding Society & their Emissaries, there were great apprehensions of Riots & Tumults in London, on which account the Tower was fortified & the Guard at the Bank doubled etc. Ships were also put in commission & the Militia in the Eastern Counties order'd to be embodied, on which account Friends to good Order & Government also now met in several places, to form associations for supporting the Constitution, a meeting of which kind was on this day (the 10h.) held at the Town Hall, Chichester, where some Resolutions against Sedition etc. were drawn up & signed. There being also a Meeting of the same kind about this time held at Portsmouth, Mr Williams, who had been rather imprudent in uttering his democratic Sentiments, & fearing he had gone too far & might be reckon'd a mark'd man, put himself in as conspicuous a part of the Hall as he co'd & warmly supported the Resolutions, joining in the cry of God save the King etc. with great vociferation, as he inform'd us the next day, when he came over to spend a day or two with us.'
Delving further into the background of this incident, as related by John Marsh, gives us a revealing insight into the involvement of Thomas Williams with one of the political issues of the day. At that time, the Test Act barred Catholics and Dissenters who would not take the Communion according to the rites of the Church of England from holding office either under the Crown or in the municipalities, and prohibited Dissenters of every kind from entering Universities. The Tory leader, William Pitt, had, in 1787 and again in 1789, opposed the abolition of the Act. Charles Fox, the leader of the Whigs, on the other hand, warmly espoused the cause of religious equality. The Dissenters, therefore, saw no chance of admission to full civil rights except through the the new Whig party under Fox, and through Parliamentary Reform.
Just when the English political parties were thus beginning to divide on the double issue of religious equality and Parliamentary Reform came news that the French were framing a code of laws which put men of every creed on the same platform of civic rights. The attitude of English Churchmen and Dissenters towards the early stages of the French Revolution was naturally affected by the analogy of their own position at home. And the fortunes of Parliamentary Reform, hitherto a purely English movement, became at once deeply embroiled in the affairs of a country with very different social and political attitudes. A group of middle class Dissenters, headed by Price and Priestley put forward views on religious equality through Parliamentary Reform, in general sympathy with the changes advocated in France and, at a different level, Thomas Paine published his views on the Rights of Man. These sentiments started to cause alarm amongst the Tory upper classes and Edmund Burke wrote a political pamphlet attacking Priestley and the French Revolution, which led to the 'Church and King' mob, not discouraged by the local authorities, sacking Priestley's house and destroying his scientific instruments.
The situation that subsequently developed is vividly described by Erskine May.
'In 1792, the deepening shadows of the French revolution had inspired the great body of the people with sentiments of fear and repugnance; while a small, but noisy and turbulent, party, in advocating universal suffrage and annual parliaments, were proclaiming their admiration of French principles, and sympathy with the Jacobins of Paris. Currency was given to their opinions in democratic tracts, handbills, and newspapers, conceived in the spirit of sedition. Some of these papers were the work of authors expressing, as at other times, their own individual sentiments: but many were disseminated, at a low price, by democratic associations, in correspondence with France. One of the most popular and dangerous of these publications was Thomas Paine's second part of the Rights of Man.
Instead of singling out any obnoxious work for a separate prosecution, the government issued, on the 21st May 1792, a proclamation warning the people against wicked and seditious writings, industriously dispersed amongst them, commanding magistrates to discover the authors, printers, and promulgators of such writings, and sheriffs and others to take care to prevent tumults and disorders.
Several societies, which had been formed for other objects, now avowed their sympathy and fellowship with the revolutionary party in France, addressed the National Convention, corresponded with political clubs and public men in Paris; and imitated the sentiments, the language, and the cant then in vogue across the channel. Of these the most conspicuous were the 'Revolution Society,' the 'Society for Constitutional Information,' and the 'London Corresponding Society.' The Revolution Society had been formed long since, to commemorate the English revolution of 1688, and not that of France, a century later. It met annually on the 4th November, when its principal toasts were the memory of King William, trial by jury, and the liberty of the press.
The Society for Constitutional Information had been formed in 1780, to instruct the people in their political rights, and to forward the cause of parliamentary reform. It was scarcely known to the public, its funds were low; and it was only saved from a natural death by the French revolution.
The London Corresponding Society, - composed chiefly of working men, - was founded in the midst of the excitement caused by events in France. It sought to remedy all the grievances of society, real or imaginary, - to correct all political abuses, - and particularly to obtain universal suffrage and annual parliaments. These objects were to be secured by the joint action of affiliated societies throughout the country. The scheme embraced a wide correspondence, not only with other political associations in England, but with the National Convention of France, and the Jacobins of Paris. The leaders were obscure and, for the most part, illiterate men; and the proceedings of the society were more conspicuous for extravagance and folly than for violence. Arguments for universal suffrage were combined with abstract speculations, and conventional phrases, borrowed from France, - wholly foreign to the sentiments of Englishmen and the genius of English liberty. Their members were 'citizens,' the king was 'chief magistrate.'
These societies, animated by a common sentiment, engaged in active correspondence; and published numerous resolutions and addresses of a democratic, and sometimes of a seditious character. Their wild and visionary schemes, - however captivating to a lower class of politicians, - served only to discredit and endanger liberty. They were repudiated by the 'Society of the Friends of the People,' and by all the earnest but temperate reformers of that time: they shocked the sober, alarmed the timid, and provoked, - if they did not justify, - the severities of the government.
In ordinary times, the insignificance of these societies would have excited contempt rather than alarm: but as clubs and demagogues, originally not more formidable, had obtained a terrible ascendency in France, they aroused apprehensions out of proportion to their real danger. In the presence of a political earthquake, without a parallel in the history of the world, every symptom of revolution was too readily magnified.
The next step taken by the government was calculated to excite a panic. On the 1st December 1792, a proclamation was issued, stating that so dangerous a spirit of tumult and disorder had been excited by evil-disposed persons, acting in concert with persons in foreign parts, that it was necessary to call out and embody the militia.
Meanwhile, prosecutions of the press abounded, especially against publishers of Thomas Paine's works. Seditious speaking was also vigilantly repressed.
Voluntary societies were established in London and throughout the country, for the purpose of aiding the executive government in the discovery and punishment of seditious writings or language. Of these the parent was the 'Society for the protection of liberty and property against republicans and levellers.' (Founded on 20th November 1792 by John Reeves. There has been some debate about whether this organisation was secretly sponsored by the government.) These societies, supported by large subscriptions, were busy in collecting evidence of seditious designs, - frequently consisting of anonymous letters, - often of the reports of informers, liberally rewarded for their activity. Every unguarded word at the club, the market-place, or the tavern, was reported to these credulous alarmists, and noted as evidence of disaffection. Prosecutor, judge, and jury being all leagued against the accused, in a time of panic, how could any man demand with confidence to be tried by his peers?'
Perhaps Thomas Williams had been too vociferous a supporter of the Reform movement seeking the repeal of the laws discriminating against the Dissenters, and the hysteria generated by the developments across the channel dictated a tactical retreat from this stance.
In January 1793, John Marsh writes, 'Having agreed to go over to my Sisters ....... I found my Nephew Sydney quite bad with the Whooping Cough ....... On the next Morning (Monday 10th January) I went & called on my Mother & Mrs Hamer at Gosport, on my return from whence I met the Rev'd Mr Bogue (Dissenting Minister of Gosport) & Mr Voke (Mr Williams's Brother in Law) who dined with my Sister & I, Mr Williams being at Spithead on business all day; as he was on the next day, ....... On the next Morning ....... I went to the Platform (at Portsmouth) & saw the Victory sail out of the Harbour.
© Nevil Harvey-Williams