22. Joseph Backler x 2: the fall from fortunes of an artistic duo

In which we take a further look at what is known about the later years of Joseph Backler Snr, and introduce events surrounding the eventual transportation to Australia of his son Joseph Jnr.

In the previous blog-post, we left Joseph Snr having completed his window for Hereford Cathedral, but with doubts about funding for the proposed window at St James’s Piccadilly.  This window – or, rather, a version of it – was to feature in the first sighting of events involving his son Joseph Jnr, born sometime around 1813 (no record of his christening has been traced), and evidently artistically trained under the tutelage of his father.

A model window on display: On 25 September 1830, in the Morning Post, we find notice of showings by Mr. Backler of ‘the Model Window of the [Raphael] Transfiguration, in stained glass, together with the whole of the Altar below the Window (which at considerable pains and great expense he has at length completed)’, including illuminations, presumably for the evening showings from ‘Seven until Twelve o’Clock’, at 28, Old Bond Street. On 27 September, the Morning Post further reported:

“The Transfiuration in Glass”: On Saturday Mr. Backler afforded to the patrons and votaries of art a very high treat, in the exhibition of his model for a copy of RAPHAEL’S immortal work, in stained glass, intended to form an altar-piece in the east window of St. James’s Church, Westminster.  This is in every respect a noble and most praise-worthy object; and if carried into effect, as we trust it will be, we have no doubt of Mr. Backler’s entire success.

Further praise was lavished on Backler by Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Dublin Ireland, on 28 September:

An exact model of the grand altar window for St. James’s Church has been executed in stained glass by Mr. Backler.  The subject is that of the “Transfiguration” from the famous picture by Raphael, now in the Vatican, at Rome, and the effect produced by Mr. Backler is of the most sublime description.  Nothing can exceed the richness of the colouring, and the admirable expression of the figures.  It is understood that the work itself will not be completed before two years, and that the expense will be 2,500l.

28 Old Bond Street is now the entrance to The Royal Arcade, built in the late 19th century.  However, nearby on present-day Bond Street are properties which date from earlier in the century, when the street already had a reputation as a fashionable shopping centre.

Theft of the model:  We know that the window never came to fruition.  However, the model was to figure in the ensuing disastrous year (1831) for Joseph Backler Snr. and his son. (During this same year, to be described in a future blog, Joseph Snr’s brother Samuel Backler, my 3x g. grandfather, was undergoing proceedings for bankruptcy.)  The Morning Post of 25 December 1830 hints at disasters to come:

Police Intelligence.  Marlborough Street. – Stephen Hudson, a man about 30 years of age, was yesterday placed at the bar for re-examination, before J.E. Conant, Esq., charged with stealing the model of a stained window, intended for St James’s Church, value five hundred guineas.  It appeared that Mr. Backler, an artist, left town about three weeks since, and on returning discovered that the model, which represented the Transfiguration, in six departments, after Raphael, was gone.  He immediately suspected the Prisoner, who was in his service as porter, and had him apprehended by Schofield, an officer of this establishment, when the Prisoner accounted for the loss of the model by saying that it had been taken away by Mr. Backler’s son, and he had not seen it for a fortnight.

The story unfolded in an account in The Morning Chronicle on 1 January 1831 from Marlborough Street Police: A man named Haines claimed he had met Hudson, who was carrying a brown paper parcel, in St James’s Park. They came across Joseph Backler Jnr, and in the ensuing conversation, Backler was said to have exclaimed: ‘If you do not give it to me, I will break it’, whereupon the parcel was given to Backler, ‘and after the whole of the parties had partaken of something to drink, they separated’.  At this hearing, the magistrate said that Hudson had no case to answer, and Joseph Backler Snr said he would charge his son with the theft.  The Officer Schofield was charged with apprehending Joseph Jnr.

On 21 January 1831, The Morning Post and the Morning Chronicle reported that Schofield had found the missing model in a ‘house of ill-fame’ in Westminster, where Joseph Backler Jnr lived and was taken into custody.  No further record of this affair is to be found, until reference is made to it in far more serious events which unfolded from 26 May 1831.

Forged cheques:  The Morning Chronicle, 26 May 1831:

Marlborough Street – Forged Cheques – A fashionably-dressed young man, named BACKLER, who is respectably connected, was yesterday charge at this office with uttering a number of forged cheques. It appeared that he had left his home, taking with him his father’s cheque-book, and having filled up a number of blanks, he had put them into circulation and obtained cash for them.  He had been living in the first style of fashion, changing his residence as often as he issued fresh cheques, and had, till yesterday, avoided detection, when he was accidentally met by one of the parties he had defrauded.  He was remanded.

Food, glorious food! One of those defrauded was Mr. Thomas Blackwell, of 11 King Street, Soho Square. What prompted the young Joseph to present himself to Mr Blackwell, with a cheque

‘purporting to be drawn by a Mr. Andrews, payable to Mr. Newman, of Soho-Square, or the bearer.  On presenting the cheque to Mr. Blackwell, he told him that he was in Newman’s employ, and that gentleman would be much obliged to Mr. B. if he would favour him with cash for it’ (The Standard 2 June 1831).

Canny Mr. B detained Backler while checking out this story with Mr Newman, who knew nothing of the cheque or Backler, who was ‘immediately given into custody’.  The name of James Newman was presumably known to Backler, as he was a noted art supplier at the time. More famously, though, Thomas Blackwell had in 1829 or 1830 founded Crosse & Blackwell with Edmund Crosse. Both men had started their working lives as apprentices to a company called West and Wyatt, which they bought out and re-named.  Originally situated at 11 King Street, the firm eventually had its headquarters at 20 Soho Square.  Others whom Backler attempted to defraud were Eden Bowler and Matthias Robinson, whom I can’t specifically identify. The sheer cheek of young Joseph in trying to defraud such well-known people was to be carried through to his early years as a transported convict in Australia – but we get ahead of ourselves!

Old Bailey: The Morning Post of 4 July 1831 reported that the facts were fully proved in the indictment for uttering forged orders with the intent to defraud Thomas Blackwell and Eden Bowler.  The third indictment was not tried.  Backler was Guilty and sentenced to death.  In my next blog I will recount the efforts made by his family and others to have his sentence commuted.  Suffice it to say that later that year, Joseph Jnr was transported to Australia.

Joseph Snr – a lonely end: And what of young Joseph’s once-renowned father, Joseph Backler Snr, artist in stained glass?  I can find no further reference to artistic works.  His commissions seem to have dried up completely, but there is no apparent reason as to why.  In the next blog we will learn a bit more about his wife and daughter, who had apparently left him in the early 1820s.  I believe he is to be found twice in the 1841 Census, as follows:

  • 146 Aldersgate Street: Here we find in a place of multiple occupation, Joseph Buckle [sic], 52, Glass Painter, born in Middlesex; and Sarah Buckle [sic], 50, also born in Middlesex.  I speculate that this is Joseph Backler Snr, living with his sister Sarah, although her age is rather far out for someone born around 1783.  I have not been able to find her otherwise in the 1841 Census.  Ten years later she was living in the Geffrye’s Almshouses.  I am sure this is ‘our’ Joseph, so if Sarah is not his sister, it is perhaps someone he was living with, at least part-time, since there is another entry for ‘our’ Joseph at:
  • St Chadd’s Row (off Gray’s Inn Road): Joseph Backler, 60 [this could possibly – and more logically – be 50], Artist in Glass, not born in County [this is a discrepancy!].

Death on 13 January 1848. Joseph died of acute bronchitis, 3 months, at 9 Middleton Buildings, not far from his former premises at Newman Street.  His death was reported by James Stean, present at the death, of Butlers Alley, City.   I cannot find out anything more about who he was.  Joseph was buried on 18 January 1848, in St Marylebone.  I wonder who saw him off?  His wife and children were nowhere near.  He had a number of siblings who could have attended – but did they?  Despite his earlier prominence as a stained glass artist, his final days appear to have passed unmarked and uncelebrated.  In the next blog we will see an inkling of the traumas of 1831 for Joseph and his son.  Perhaps those events had broken both his spirit and his artistic talents.





    1. Hi Ray – that was quick! I am afraid that is all about Joseph Snr, but more is to come about the dramatic events around the commutation of Joseph Jnr’s sentence to death. What a time for the family. I hope it won’t be too long before I get that post done. Barbara

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.