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Saturday, 27 April 2013


Another case from the files of my great grandfather's cousin, Talfourd Salter QC. Several of his appearances at the Old Bailey are on record, a snapshot of the lives and crimes of ordinary people in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1855, Hammersmith (now swallowed up by west central London) was still semi-rural. His uncle the horticulturalist John Salter was able to open a plant nursery on open fields there when he fled the French coup d’état in 1848. (Long story! See elsewhere in these pages.) As evidence of its still-rustic nature, witness this case of sheep-rustling in the borough.

Sheep and a London policeman, 1931. In the 1930s sheep-rusting was less of a problem in the capital.

On 19th March 1855 Henry Fowkes, a butcher in Hammersmith, bought some sheep in a field at Brook Green. He planned to keep them there, opposite his shop, and slaughter them as required. At 9.30 in the morning of Thursday 5th April, he discovered that nineteen of his new sheep were missing from the Brook Green field.

Worse still, his tame sheep had also gone, which he had put in with the new animals. This was not a pet, and Fowkes was unusual in keeping such an animal. Because it knew its way around, it acted as a leader so that, as Fowkes testified in court, “when sheep came home from market, it used to run in [to his abattoir] first and they followed instantly.” As Hammersmith faced up to the advance of London’s urban sprawl, Fowkes was dealing with a new problem – traffic. “I keep this [leader],” he stated, “to run across the road, so that the sheep should not be run over by the omnibuses.”

Sheep and London omnibuses, 1926. This is what happens if you don't have a leader.

Two days later, acting on a tip-off, Fowkes saw what he thought were the carcasses of his sheep in the shop of another butcher, William Paulin of Marylebone Lane. Paulin was arrested, and stood in the dock of the Old Bailey on 9th April, accused of either stealing the sheep or feloniously receiving the stolen goods. Talfourd Salter QC acted for the defence.

The prosecution produced a string of witnesses to establish the last journey of the stolen animals and the distribution of their skins and carcasses. A toll collector saw twenty sheep being driven towards London from Hammersmith at 7.30pm on 20th March, and a fishmonger saw them arrive at Paulin’s shop in Marylebone at 9pm. A slaughterman testified that he had been having a drink in the Sawyer’s Arms (still in Marylebone Lane today) when Paulin hired him to help kill the sheep, which took from 11pm until 5am on 21st March.

Later on that morning a butcher in Oxford Street bought twenty “recently killed” sheep’s heads from Paulin. Two days later, reported a tallow chandler (candle-maker), Paulin’s assistant arrived with an unusually large consignment of mutton fat (used to make candles) which – the candlemaker could tell from the condition and the smell – had been killed a couple of days earlier. Another butcher in Marylebone Lane bought carcasses from his neighbor Paulin on 24th March.

So much for the disposal of the inner sheep. A carter reported being hired at 7am on Wednesday 21st March to carry twenty sheepskins from Paulin’s shop to another butcher, in Warwick Lane, who confirmed that he was told they came from Paulin. This butcher sold them on to a Bermondsey fellmonger (skin and hide dealer) on 22nd March, who on 24th March sold them on to a fellow Bermondsey fellmonger – in whose premises the following Tuesday 27th March Henry Fowkes thought he recognised the pelts of his sheep.

A nineteenth century butcher’s panel

The marks found on the skins were the same as those made by Fowkes and by previous owners of the missing sheep. As for the meat, Fowkes had butchered some of his remaining sheep by the time the case came to trial. He was therefore in a position to say that the stolen carcasses found in both the Marylebone Lane butchers’ shops were from the same flock. Hidden behind the hanging joints in Paulin’s shop, Fowkes also spotted the hind quarters of his tame leader.

So there was no doubt that Paulin had received the stolen sheep. But did he steal them? It was a dark night early in the year: the toll collector said that, of the two men driving the sheep to Marylebone “the prisoner very much resembles one;” but the fishmonger thought he saw Paulin not arriving with the stolen sheep but coming out of his shop to meet them. The doubt was enough for Talfourd to get Paulin of the theft charge; but he could do nothing about the evident receiving of stolen goods, and Paulin was sentenced in that respect to eighteen months in prison.

A mysterious second sheep rustler remained unidentified and at large, a tall, slim man who was described by several witnesses on the road to Marylebone and around Paulin’s shop, when the sheep arrived and when they were killed. This mystery presence throughout the night of 20th March does seem to compromise Talfourd’s client. But I’m no lawyer.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


Everybody needs a hobby. Frederic Merrifield was my great aunt’s grandfather and a successful barrister on the south coast of England; but life isn’t just about work. Frederic’s hobby was butterflies and moths, and living on the edge of the Sussex Downs he could not have been better placed – next to one of the richest Lepidoptera habitats in Britain.

Pieris napi, the Green-veined White butterfly

Like many enthusiastic amateur gentlemen of the nineteenth century, Frederic took his hobby seriously. It was an age of scientific enquiry, spurred by the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 which effectively launched the theory of evolutionary biology. So Frederic applied himself to the methodical study of moths and butterflies. By the end of the century the Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London had included several papers by him, and he served as the society’s president in 1905-1906.

Vanessa atalanta, the Red Admiral butterfly

Merrifield’s special interest was the effect of changes of temperature on the various stages of the Lepidoptera lifestyle, particularly the colours and markings of the insects. Amongst his papers were Systematic temperature experiments on some Lepidoptera in all their stages, Conspicuous Effects on the markings and colouring of Lepidoptera caused by exposure of the pupœ to different temperature conditions, and The effects of temperature in the pupal stage on the colouring of Pieris napi, Vanessa atalanta, Chrysophanus philœas, and Ephyra punctaria.

Chrysophanus philœas, the Small Copper butterfly

I’m not qualified to comment on the science, but Frederic Merrifield cannot have imagined how relevant his investigations would be 120 years after he wrote about them. Small temperature changes have dramatic effects on species – even I know how they affect the proportion of the genders in reptile births, for example. As the world heats up, I wonder how many biologists are revisiting Frederic’s studies, looking for clues to the effects of global warming.

Ephyra punctaria, the Maiden’s Blush moth

Frederic's daughter Margaret De Gaudrion Merrifield married Arthur Verrall, whose cousin George Henry Verrall also served as president of the Entymological Society, in 1899-1900. It's a small world, and not just for moths.

Saturday, 13 April 2013


How times have changed. It used to be that the three pillars of the community in which you could trust absolutely were the school-teacher, the vicar, and the bank manager. From 1858 here’s the tale of a banker and a minister that would undermine your faith in both, had events in the early twenty-first century not already done so.

I’m related by the marriage of a Davis (my 3x great grandmother’s family) to the Gotch family of Kettering; but family or not, I have to admit the Gotch banking skills left much to be desired. Gotch’s Bank, the family firm, didn’t even notice that it had been broken into in 1812 until the burglar’s accomplice turned on him and blurted it out in court. That was under the presidency of John Cooper Gotch. When John died in 1852, his sons Thomas Henry and John Davis Gotch took over a bank which was technically insolvent, with debts of over £28,000.

One of the main debtors was the Reverend Allan Macpherson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Rothwell, a village four miles outside Kettering in which the Gotch family’s assets included a brewery. Maybe the reverend had some sort of understanding with Gotch the father which he didn’t have with Gotch the son; when Gotch senior died, Macpherson – who owed the bank £2,900 – effectively did a runner, abandoning his parish and moving to Brussels “to retrieve himself,” as he put it. There he set himself up in comfortable apartments, from which in 1853 he got back in touch with the bank, writing: “I shall be obliged by your addressing me as Monsieur Macpherson as I have not brought my clerical designation with me to the continent.”

The reason he gave was that, surprisingly, he had not described himself as a clergyman on his passport; and that he was engaged in secular business in which being a man of the cloth might confuse matters. He now began to borrow relatively small amounts from the bank in support of those secular business activities, holding out always the imminent success of them as the point at which he would be able to repay the bank for all its trust in him.

Holy Trinity, Rothwell, Northhants, where Monsieur Allan Macpherson preached before exchanging the cloth for the con

His letters to the bank, some 450 of them over the next four years, are short on hard facts and long on vague self-aggrandisement and any-day-now. His get-rich schemes revolved around a series of patents (including improvements to gas lighting and the recycling of human sewage) which he purchased at the bank’s expense in several European countries. He was also involved in various slate, iron and lead ore mining projects and a scheme to dig a canal from Hanover to Holland.

How much of this is true (I have found one record of one patent registration by him, in 1856, “for improving and applying motive-power”) and how much a Macpherson fantasy I cannot tell, and neither could the bank. All they had to go on were his own reports – he had “conditionally sold for £1,000 his French patent for double fish-tail gas burners;” he had “actually asked £20,000 for only one of his mines;” he had “orders for 123,000 slates;” “gentlemen of experience who had visited his various works said, that in a few years he must be a man of large fortune;” he had “very large contracts for the delivery of stone to the Government and the Luxembourg Railway, at large profits.”

A Gotch’s Bank note of 1856 signed by Thomas Henry Gotch – in 1857, not worth the paper it was printed on

None of these, it seems, ever came to anything. Yet on his word alone the bank continued to honour cheques for anything from £20 to £200 right up to the point, on 9th June 1857, when they filed for bankruptcy with a deficit of £82,000. Of that enormous sum, Macpherson’s debt amounted to £25,000.

Bankers always bounce back, don’t they? Thomas and Henry Gotch rebuilt the family fortunes – not in banking but in shoe manufacture. By the time of the bank’s collapse, Macpherson was almost seventy years old. With the bank's funds no longer available to him he turned to his family. They might have forgiven his financial incompetence, but when they learnt that he had fathered an illegitimate child back in Rothwell they cut him off. He died in Paris in poverty in 1864 at the age of 76. A full account of his spree comes in an edition of the Monetary Times of 1858.

The Market House, Rothwell, Northhants, now the town council chamber - begun c1578 by Sir William Tresham and completed 1895 by John Alfred Gotch (1852-1942) eldest son of Thomas Henry Gotch

It is possible, I suppose, that the death of his daughter Matilda in 1843 at the age of nine, or of his wife Caroline a few years later, may have set him off on his criminal path. The church of Holy Trinity may also have played its part – a once great thirteenth century building, it was far too big for its parish and had fallen into such disrepair over time (aided by an eighteenth century earthquake and a seventeenth century bolt of lightning which toppled the steeple) that by 1819 it was considered fit only to house the Rothwell fire engine! Perhaps his early borrowings were on its behalf.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


George Fife Angas, an English banker and businessman and a cousin of my 3x great uncle Joseph Angus, is credited in large part with establishing South Australia as a formal territory. While remaining in London he founded the South Australian Company in 1836 and promoted the early colonisation of the region, some of it at his own expense. His commitment to the settlement of South Australia left him in financial difficulty and in early 1843 he sent his son John Howard Angas to Adelaide to revive the family fortune. Towards the end of the year John’s older brother George French Angas followed, arriving in January 1844.

George French Angas (1822-1886)
the frontispiece to his third folio, Kafirs Illustrated, published 1849
(engraving by Charles Baugniet, who incidentally also designed the first Belgian postage stamp)

George’s father had encouraged him to enter the family business, but from an early age he showed an interest and an aptitude for art and natural history. He travelled far and wide in Australia and New Zealand over the next eighteen months making watercolour sketches of local flora and fauna and the native populations. By exhibitions in Adelaide and Sydney he raised the money to publish two collections of hand-coloured lithographs on his return to London in 1847 – South Australia Illustrated and The New Zealanders Illustrated.

He was an accurate observer, an instinctive naturalist and ethnologist; and the two collections are today rich records of indigenous antipodean cultures. In his respect for local traditions he reflected the attitude of his father, who pursued legislation to protect aboriginal rights. His encouragement of Christian missionary work amongst the native people of South Australia may seem paternalistic now but in his day he was progressive; George Angas senior regarded William Penn’s treaty with the native North Americans as a model for fostering good relationships between local and European populations.

Illustrations by George French Angas from The New Zealanders Illustrated (1847) and Kafirs Illustrated (1849)

George junior now turned his attention to southern Africa and the results were published in a third collection, Kafirs Illustrated, in 1849. It contained the now successful mixture of illustrations – native costume and accommodation, vegetation and wildlife. Amongst the new batch of images were two of particular personal interest and satisfaction to George.

George French Angas’s descriptions of the male and female nyala antelope were the first, of a species previously unknown to European natural science. As the nyala it had of course been known to local hunters for thousands of years. By the scientific community it was now named Tragelaphus angasii, the Angas antelope.

The male Tragelaphus angasii, painted by its western discoverer George French Angas in 1849

George claimed modestly that John Edward Gray, the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum at the time, had so named the new animal in honour of George’s father. But there is no evidence for this, and no sense in naming an African mammal after an Australian enthusiast. The honour surely belongs to the son and discoverer.

The nyala is a shy herbivore, preferring to live not in open countryside but in thickets within woodland, from which it emerges cautiously to drink at waterholes. As Angas observed and depicted, the male and female of the species are extremely different in appearance, more so than any other antelope. Unfortunately the magnificent twisted horns of the male make it a highly prized game trophy, but at the moment the nyala is not considered endangered. Just as well, because although George only discovered it 165 years ago, fossil records suggest that it has surivived as a distinct species for some 5.8 million years.

The female and young Tragelaphus angasii, painted by George French Angas in 1849
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