8. Sotherton Backler 1746-1819 Clerk to the Society of Apothecaries

Born in July 1746, and christened in Sr Giles Cripplegate, Sotherton Backler was the son of apothecary Sotherton, and his wife Ann Ashley. Young Sotherton had attended St Paul’s School, and would have been 17 years old when his father died in 1763. I do not know how or with whom he did any apprenticeship, nor what was his occupation before he was made free of the Society on 2 October 1781 [1]. He was elected to the Society’s Livery in 1796, and his son John (by his first wife Frances) was apprenticed to him. How and where he qualified as an apothecary remains a mystery. His distinctive signature appears on a City of London Sessions document in 1783 (http://hri.shef.ac.uk/san/pl/SL/PS/LMSLPS15094/LMSLPS150940014.jpg)

Sotherton Backler signature, London Court of Sessions, 1783.

Sotherton Backler signature, London Court of Sessions, 1783.

Was he a Clerk or an Accountant?

Over the last decade of the 18th century, Sotherton gradually took on more responsibility in the Society. Following the presentation of an address by the Master and Warden to His Majesty the King in 1795, it was reported that the address ‘was very Masterly wrote by Mr. Backler on vellum and it was resolved that he be desired to accept a guinea for his trouble’.[2] The Court Minute books show that he received payments for Clerk’s duties as early as 1796, shortly after he was admitted to the Livery. From 1797, regular payments were made annually to Sotherton Backler in respect of his ‘officiating as Clerk’. The situation was formalised at the Court of 16 December 1802, when Mr Cooke, ‘on account of age and indifferent state of health, was granted permission to employ a Deputy. Sotherton Backler was duly summoned and so appointed, the compensation for the role to be agreed between Mr. Cooke and himself’. The Minute Book of this date displays a dramatic change in handwriting!

On 18 March 1803, it was ordered that the Clerk’s office be properly fitted up for transacting the Business of the Corporation. This date was just before the death in April of Sotherton’s second wife, Hannah Osborne. He had produced a total of 14 children with his two wives, the youngest of whom was only 5. I speculate that he may have had four or five children living with him, the oldest his daughter Frances, aged about 22. It could be that she took charge of the young family while Sotherton carried out his Clerkly duties.

At a special Court on 15 January 1806, the Master announced that a Clerk was to be elected in the roome of Mr Robert Cooke, who had died. An election took place, and Sotherton duly became Clerk.

It is also important to note here that in addition to being Clerk, Sotherton was Accountant to the Navy Stock (the business arm of the Society, which operated contracts for the Royal Navy), and Secretary to the Friendly Medical Society.

[1] 8206/3 Registers of freedom admissions. Stamp duty books. 1785-1814. Seen on microfilm at Guildhall Library.
[2] Society of Apothecaries Court Minute Book: 8200/9 p. 225 16 Decr 1795

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