Henry McLauchlan Backler

17. Tragic daughters – Florence Sophia McLauchlan Backler and Laura Louisa McLauchlan Backler

It was something of a shock when my eyes landed on the Probate index book entry for Laura Louisa McLauchlan Backler of “Norland”, Champion Park, Denmark Hill in the County of Surrey Spinster: ‘died on the 8th day of September 1909 by drowning in a lake in Richmond Park in the said County’.

Laura was the younger of two daughters of Henry McLauchlan Backler, the successful gas company man whose life I described in two previous blogs. Laura’s older sister Florence Sophia McLauchlan Backler married, aged nearly 19 years, to William Griffin Davis in the Parish Church of St Giles, Camberwell, on 16 August 1866.  Witnesses included her parents and sister, as well as her father’s maternal uncle, Henry McLauchlan, and Sarah Davis.  William was an engineer, resident in Tipton, Stafford. His father John Griffin Davis was a Gentleman.  But the Davis’ do not feature long in our story, because alas, Florence died aged 21 and was buried on 11 June 1869 in Nunhead Cemetery, where William was buried in the same plot in October 1886. He had married Laura Louisa Potter in 1872, but by the time of the 1881 census, he was widowed again, having had a son, William Griffin Parkes Davis in around 1873.

Florence pre-deceased her parents by some years.

At the time of her sister’s death, Laura was aged 19.  Was it this event which led to this young woman devoting her life to piety and good works?

Poetess’ Tragic End:  The headline in the South London Press of Friday, September 17, 1909 read: ‘Poetess’ Tragic End. Camberwell Lady Wanders into a Pond and is Drowned.  Life and Work of Miss Backler’.  At Nunhead Cemetery, ‘the grave was surrounded by a crowd of poor women among whom the deceased was accustomed to work, and one of whom started the hymn “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”, which was taken up by all present and sung with wonderful pathos.’

The mystery of Laura’s death caused considerable concern among her friends and acquaintances, but the report of the inquest reveals undercurrents of mis-trust among her various supporters.  And her Will reveals an interesting relationship which remains unexplained.

The picture which can be drawn of Laura is of a young woman in a very prosperous family, who devoted her life to writing and good work.  As far as can be seen, her writings were of a pious nature, including ‘ “Issy” A Story of Trust and Triumph’[1], the title page of which cites other works by the author: ‘Light and Shadow’ and ‘Heart Musings’ etc.  The title page of ‘How I was turned inside out’[2] also cites her authorship of ‘The Cry for Christ’, while the text of this 14-page tract describes how one man saw the light and reformed his ways from being a bullying husband and father to becoming one who ruled his spirit and ‘came to Jesus’.

Her piety was combined with concern for those who were oppressed in a poem about the ‘sweating system’ quoted in the South London Press report of her death:

‘Marvels of cheapness! Look at the price!  Ah! look at it once again:

See it in sorrow, starvation, vice, And ruin of heart and brain.

See it in girlhood sunk in the mire, the terrible slough of sin;

And manhood checked in each right desire, Scarce able a crust to win.

‘Remember the solemn warning cry Of the prophet’s voice of old,

And refuse persistently to buy Where lives count less than gold.

Give to the labourer what is due, Pity the weak and poor,

Let the world behold Christ’s life in you, With no soul’s blood at your door.’

Both her piety and writing talents permeate the reports about Laura after her mysterious death.  She had invited the local vicar, the Rev John Robert Porte D.D., to lunch on Wednesday 8 September 1909, having only two days previously returned from a five week break with him and his family in Buckinghamshire.  The Rev Porte conducted the ceremony at the graveside, and had identified Laura’s body and given evidence at the inquest into her death, at which he noted ‘she has written beautiful poetry and books, which have been printed. She was a brilliant speaker on religious and social questions. Conversationally she was most delightful in every way…she was a most earnest and devoted Christian woman.’

The South London Press report says Miss Backler was ‘known throughout the Camberwell district for her benevolence, her untiring efforts to advance the moral and spiritual welfare of the poor, her zeal as a Churchwoman, and her power of producing poetry that sounded trumpet notes of earnest protest against wrong and evil’.

Body found at Dann’s Pond, Richmond Park: Some clues as to her behaviour on that day are seen in reports at her inquest and afterwards of her poor health, including among other things, diabetes, and previous instances when she had seemed to suffer from loss of memory.  Saying she was going to the bank in the morning, she had proceeded to Blackfriars Station and purchased a return ticket to Richmond. How had she reached the station from Camberwell?  And why had she purchased a ticket to Richmond?  And how had she then covered the distance to Dann’s Pond on the far side of Richmond Park, near to Kingston Gate?  None of those questions were answered in the subsequent inquiries into her death.  (The pond can be seen in the southwest corner of the park at this link: http://www.mappery.com/map-of/Richmond-Park-Map )

What did emerge was that James Harmsworth, of 5 New Road, Kingston, was crossing the Park near White Ash Lodge, passing Dann’s Pond at 6.30 in the morning, and ‘saw some clothes on the ground with an open sunshade over them. They were under a tree, and consisted of a jacket, hat, waterproof and boots, and spectacle case.’  He then saw the body of a woman in about eight feet of water, using ropes to bring the body ashore, and calling the police.  The report goes on to summarise the belongings on the body of the deceased: ‘a gold signet ring, gold dress ring set with pearls, another set with diamonds, and another set with sapphires and diamonds, 32s 3d silver, and 1s bronze, a silver chain purse, a return half of a railway ticket (Richmond to Blackfriars), black cloth purse bag, three lead pencils, and some memos, two bunches of keys, and one pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, a stone brooch and gold scarf pin’.

The Inquest – dispute over Will and the role of the Rev Porte: When Laura had not appeared for lunch on the Wednesday, she was reported missing by the Rev. Porte, and the next day he travelled to Richmond to identify the body. The inquest was held on the evening of Saturday, 11 September 1909.  A number of people known to Laura Backler were present, including the Rev. Porte and ‘Mr. Davidson, a relative’.  He was in fact Walter Davidson, the nephew of Laura’s mother, and during the inquest there was an atmosphere of mis-trust between him and the long-standing family solicitor, Mr. Cowland on the one hand, and the Rev. Porte and Mr Chester, another solicitor, on the other.  The first area of contention was over the Will.  Cowland solicitors had drawn up the wills of Laura’s father and mother: ‘The Coroner asked if anyone else wished to speak, and Mr. Cowland said that his firm acted for the family for last thirty years, and made a will for the deceased four years ago.  Mr. Chester interrupted and said that could not be correct, for he had acted for Miss Backler for the last six years and held her will.  The Coroner: ‘I am willing to give you all a hearing if you can help me.’  Neither gentleman, nor Mr. Williams, another trustee [of Laura’s Will, and Secretary to the European Gas Company],  however, could add anything to what had been said.

The second, rather more mysterious note of disagreement was as follows:

‘Mr Davidson, a relative: May I suggest you ask the witness…

The Coroner: Will you allow me to examine the witness in my own way? (To Dr. Porte): Was there anything wrong with her mind? – Several times she had a bad memory. She was rather ill two or three years ago, and there was no question she was wandering in her mind.

Would you say her mind was affected? – I would not say that but her brain was clouded…

…Mr Davidson was then asked if he had any questions, and said that Miss Backler had suffered a good deal with her head.

Dr. Porte said that he thought that in the last few years she had been better in that respect.  Some years ago she had suffered from headaches and loss of memory and that was due to a constitutional cause.

Mr. Davidson asked Dr. Porte to read a letter dated December 31st, 1908, in which the words occurred: “Not feeling very well.” He then asked witness to read another, but the Coroner said if he wanted the letters read he could go into the witness-box himself later on.

Mr. Chester: It was about seven years ago that Miss Backler did not enjoy good health.  She was perfectly able to transact business.

Mr. Cowland.  I think he has made a little mistake about Miss Backler’s health. (Mr. Davidson: Hear, hear.)

Mr. Chester: I am sorry to interrupt but the evidence may hereafter –

The Coroner: It is a matter of no importance to me what takes place hereafter. I am trying to find out the cause of the lady’s death.

Dr. Porte: Her doctor can give evidence on that. He is present.

The Coroner: Very well.

After this exchange, Louisa Baughem, the parlourmaid, said Miss Backler’s headaches were usually worse on Wednesdays, and it was unusual for her to go to the bank – she usually sent her companion.

Witnesses described instances when Laura had gone astray in previous years, once being found at her mother’s grave in Nunhead Cemetery, and once in a pond, rescuing a dog.  However, the general sentiment was that there was no obvious explanation for her behaviour at the pond, her doctor suggesting that she might have thought she was going to bed.  Summing up, the Coroner was reported as saying ‘that if the deceased lady had thought she was going to bed she would hardly have opened an umbrella and put it over her clothes. Had she been going to bed she would have probably taken off all her clothes. However, if the jury were in doubt as to her actions, and there was no direct evidence that she committed suicide, they could return an open verdict.’

‘The jury could not at first agree, and the foreman said nine were for a verdict of “Found drowned,” and the other six disagreed.

‘The Coroner: I must have twelve for one verdict. Surely there is no difficulty in agreeing.

‘The jury then retired, and after a short time the foreman returned and agreed on a verdict of “Found drowned”.’

Laura, her sister and parents are all interred in the ‘nature reserve’ section of Nunhead Cemetery.  But her story does not end there.

Laura’s Will – suspiciously favouring the Rev. Porte? Reading the comments about the Will at the inquest, and the comments there and at the graveside by her ‘intimate’ friend The Rev. John Robert Porte, one is led to speculate about his influence over Laura after the death of her mother in December 1903 – roughly the time at which the Laura’s ‘health’ problems were said to be at their worst.  The change of solicitors from the Cowlands to Chesters could have been influenced by Rev. Porte, and when one reads Laura’s Will, one can certainly see that the Porte family benefited handsomely from it.  This friendship, though, was not new.  The Rev. Porte was also an executor of Henry’s and Eliza’s Wills, along with William Williams, the Secretary to the European Gas Company.  But the size of the parents’ bequests was small compared to that which Laura left the Porte family, and Rev. Porte in particular.

Although she was said to have many charitable and benevolent interests, Laura made no such bequests in her will. Her first legacy from her £23,000 estate was for £8,000 to the Rev Porte, and if he should have died, to his wife. In addition there was £1,000 for the Rev. Porte’s wife, £4,000 to their daughter Leonie Sybil Edith Porte (Laura’s god-daughter); £2,000 each to Monica Vera Porte, another daughter, and to each of the four Porte sons; and small bequests to friends, servants and the other executor – the total of which seems to be more than the value of the estate!

Laura’s Bequest to Leslie George Panton – who was he? A sting in the tail for the Executors, however, was contained in fully two pages of the 3 page will.  Laura had inherited the leasehold of the large house ‘Norlands’ from her parents.  In her Will she bequeathed the leasehold premises to her Executors, first so they pay all covenants etc from the rents and proceeds from the leasehold, and secondly so they pay out of rents and profits the yearly sum of fifty pounds, clear of any deductions whatsoever, to a certain Leslie Panton, ‘at present [1906] residing with Mrs. Hanbrin of No 2 Paulet Road, Camberwell and of the age of seven years’ so long as he shall be under the age of seventeen and as long as he ‘shall conduct himself in every respect to the reasonable satisfaction of the said trustees’ in or towards his maintenance, clothing, education, advancement in life and general benefit, accumulating any residue of the said profits and benefits, making payments after age 17 as needed until the said Leslie Panton is age 25, and then after that the moneys to be held in trust for Leslie Panton absolutely, so long as he conducts himself in every respect to the reasonable satisfaction of the trustees!

Leslie George Panton was born on 15 June 1897 at 42 Chelmsford Road, Walthamstow to Jacobina Panton, with no father shown on his birth certificate.  In 1891, Jacobina Panton was a 22 year old dressmaker, living in Dalston with her father James and her siblings.  She is nowhere to be seen by the 1901 Census, when Leslie was living at the ‘Haven Home for Little Ones’ in Banstead, Surrey.

Haven of Hope: In 1893 Janet Ransome Wallis (1858 – 1928) had founded what was then known as the Haven of Hope (later called The Haven of Hope for Homeless Little Ones) in a small rented terraced house in 4 Shernall Street, Walthamstow, London E17.  Soon it had outgrown its premises and moved to Walton Heath, later becoming Christian Family Concern.

What had led Laura to bestow some of her wealth on young Leslie, who would have been about 11 at the time of her death?  Records show he went on to serve with the Army Service Corps in World War I, and to marry Ethel Watson in Tynemouth on 2 June 1923.  Did he continue to benefit from Laura’s generosity?  He died in Newcastle in 1984.

The South London Press Report of Friday, September 17, 1909 had listed some of the many organisations in which she had had an interest.  They included Mr. Fagan’s Home for Boys, Southwark; The British and Foreign Bible Society; The London City Missions; the Rescue Society’s Homes; Miss Steer’s work in Ratcliff; and, tellingly, Mrs. Ransome Wallis’ Babies Home.  Clearly this latter interest had led to Laura’s interest in Leslie George Panton, but what singled him out from all the others she might have supported? And, indeed, why was there no legacy in her will for any of these charities?

Rather tantalisingly, there was a short piece in the Law section of the Times of  9 December 1909, suggesting that the terms of the Will were in dispute.  Under Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, in Chancery Chambers, was to be heard before Master White for Master Burney, at 12.45 Re Backler (Williams v. Panton).  Alas, no record of what transpired has yet been found.

[1] “Issy” A Story of Trust and Triumph, by L.L. McL. Backler. S.W. Partridge and Co., 9 Paternoster Row, London. 1886

[2] How I was turned inside out by Laura L McL. Backler, Marshall Bros, 3 Amen Corner, Paternoster Road, London. 1887.  Price Twopence, 12s per 100.

15. Henry McLauchlan Backler: advocate of municipal gas lighting

In which we consider the life and times of Henry McLauchlan Backler (1824-1892), born in Paris, died a rather wealthy man in London.  Strong advocate of municipal gas lighting and director and company secretary of many overseas gas lighting companies.

Henry McLauchlan Backler was born in Paris, where his father John Backler, apothecary and cupper, had fled in 1820 when under suspicion of fraudulent dealings in his partnership with Thomas Mapleson, cupper to the Prince Regent and then the King. Henry’s birth (12 February 1824), and those of his two sisters Sophia Matilda and Sarah, were registered in the non-conformist registers in Paris for the year 1834.

It is reasonable to assume that as the oldest son of a successful apothecary and cupper, Henry might have had an education in Paris similar to that of his father at St. Paul’s School in London.  However, no records of Henry’s early years have yet come to light.  His education was such as to equip him for a successful business career, as we shall see.

Henry’s father John Backler died in Paris in 1846.  Records show that John Backler’s wife and surviving children then returned to England, perhaps safe in the knowledge that they could not be pursued for his outstanding alleged legal infringement.  The 1851 Census separately records Henry, his mother and his widowed sister Susannah Maria Raoux.

Henry had married Eliza Cole on 3 January 1846, and before the 1851 Census, they had produced their two children:

Florence Sophia McLauchlan Backler, born 29 September 1847

Laura Louisa McLauchlan Backler, born 28 February 1849.

The family lived in Meadow Place, Lambeth in 1851, father Henry shown as ‘Secretary to a Gas Company’.    Meadow Place is a small road just south of Vauxhall Station.  Its location near to Waterloo Station and Bridge would have been convenient for Henry to access central London.  But each successive Census would show moves up-market to their eventual home in the wealthy area of Champion Park in Camberwell.

A career in gas:  My first sightings of Henry came through the Times and 19th century newspapers indexes in a trawl of the ‘Backler’ name through the 19th century.  I found information about the respective businesses of Samuel (apothecary) and Joseph (stained glass artist), mainly in adverts for Samuel’s lotions and potions, and exhibitions by Joseph at his showrooms on Newman Street, near Oxford Street – blogs about both are forthcoming.  But dated much later in the 19th century, I came across references to variations on the name of ‘H. McL Backler’; ‘Henry McL Backler’ and ‘H.M. Backler’.  I didn’t know who he was for quite some time, but the pieces began to fall into place when I uncovered the biographical information above in the nonconformist BMD Registers.

Gas as a whooping cough ‘cure’:  I was intrigued by a letter to The Times on 29 August 1864 in which Henry expounded as a cure for whooping cough ‘the practice of sending children to inhale the gas from newly-opened purifiers’, stating that ‘from information obtained at various works [in France], which I frequently visit, I may infer that the cure for whooping cough is perfect.’  Some 45 years previously, Henry’s  half-uncle Samuel Backler had advertised his own cure for whooping cough in The Times, inviting orders for pills of unspecified content which he assured readers would prove immediately effective![1]

For quite some time I had no idea what this letter referred to.  I decided to try to learn more about Henry’s career in the gas industry through a number of sources.  They included:

  • reports in various London newpapers of his different business interests, consisting of adverts convening meetings, or giving annual or half-yearly reports of the various companies with which he was associated.  From 1850 – 1892 he was auditor to, General Manager, Secretary, Director and/or Chair of at least the Continental Union Gas Company, the Oriental Gas Company (enabled by an Act on 13 February 1857 – see http://indiankanoon.org/doc/333275/), the Turkish Gas Company and the European Gas Company (which owned the majority of shares in Unions des Gaz in France). (Check out this website for a quick look at the gas industry in Europe: http://www.academia.edu/6391506/Gasworks_manufactured_gas_plants_in_Europe )
  • Board of Trade records of limited companies in the BT31 series at The National Archives
  • specialist journals, such as the Journal of Gas Lighting and Gas World, accessed through the auspices of the National Gas Archives in Warrington, Lancashire.

A plethora of municipal gas companies: Through these sources I could build a picture of Henry’s business activities, which were almost exclusively of overseas enterprises for municipal lighting, with dividends often as high as 10 per cent.

Here I copy just a pair of examples of the very many reports I have downloaded.  Careful scrutiny of all of them over a period of some 40 years reveals a lot about Henry’s business activities, the economic climate in which his businesses prospered (or not), and insight into the perceived threats to the industry by electricity.

An advert (a company report) from The Times of Wednesday 15 July 1891, late in Henry’s career, is typical of the type of report which appeared in the press over the years.  It reveals something of the costs the company incurs, principally through the price of coal.  It shows that the kind of contract the company could negotiate with the municipalities it supplied was absolutely key, and that the company was forced to reduce its prices in the interests of long-term sustainability.  It also shows the importance of the by-products of the industry, for instance coke and tar.  J. Blacket Gill, a new member of the Board, was a trustee to and beneficiary of, Henry’s Will.  When reading these adverts across the years, personnel of the different companies appear repeatedly.  I think Henry operated in a business world where a few people held a number of positions of power.  On Tuesday Feb 6, 1872 (p 7, issue 27292), a report in The Times ‘Money Market and City Intelligence’ commented on the incestuous nature of the various municipal gas companies which were being formed:

A prospectus has been issued of the Foreign and Colonial Gas Company, with a capital of 100,000l., in shares of 10l. (half to be first subscribed).  The first work proposed is the lighting of the city of Antequers, in Spain, under an exclusive concession for 58 years.  While the advantages of amalgamation are actively pointed out with regard to railway, telegraph, and other undertakings, it is difficult to see the expedience of pursuing an opposite principle in companies of the present description.  There is an Imperial Continental Gas Company, with a capital of 2,800,000l ; a European Gas Company, with a capital of 234,000l.; and a Continental Union Gas Company, with a capital of 8000,000l.; yet, to start some new works at an interior town of Spain which are not to cost more than 24,000l., a new Foreign and Colonial Gas Company is to be inaugurated with all the usual distinct administrative offices, such as a Board of Directors, auditors, solicitors, and clerks.  Another peculiar feature in the prospectus is that two of the Directors belong to Boards of other companies formed for the very same objects – one of them belonging to the European and the other to the Continental Union Gas Company.

Another article from much earlier in Henry’s career (The Times, 7 March 1856) shows Henry as auditor to the newly-developed Turkish Gas Company; he was already Secretary to the European Gas Company (which was a major holder of shares in the Unions des Gaz in France), and this illustrates some of the duplication in personnel reported above.  It also illustrates how much detail there is in pieces such as this about context of the businesses, for instance describing the extensive nightlife and many buildings which could be illuminated.

Metropolitan Steamboat Company:  All these Gas Company adverts taken together would allow analysis of the ebb and flow of British involvement in municipal gas lighting abroad.  In the midst of them appears a business interest of a different nature – an advert for the Metropolitan Steamboat Company (The Times, 7 March 1856), one of whose Directors was H McL Backler, Chairman of the Continental Union Gas Company.  Plans were for the company to build boats specifically designed for speed and comfort; for attention to refreshments; and for links with interchanges with railway companies. This company appeared to be an amalgamation of the London Steamboat Company and the Woolwich Steampacket Company. I haven’t been able to find anything else about this company, but it illustrates some of the diversity of Henry’s business interests.

 TNA – the BT31 series:  I decided to see what I could find out about Henry’s various companies at the National Archives.  Series BT 31 consists of files of dissolved companies of all kinds incorporated between 1856 and 1931 and dissolved before 1932; some files of companies incorporated between 1856 and 1900 and dissolved between 1933 and 1948; files of public and private non-exempt companies incorporated up to 1970 and dissolved between 1948 and 1971 with a one per cent sample of files of exempt private companies.  (Records of existing companies can be viewed at the search rooms of Companies House, although once a company is dissolved, its records are destroyed after 20 years unless part of the sample held at TNA.) Only a sample of dissolved companies had full returns preserved after many were destroyed after 1950, but I struck lucky with the European Gas Company.  The books begin with details of the incorporation after the 1856 Companies Act, with many images including H M Backler’s signature (see right, from TNA, BT31/35913/1604).

Eur gas co Ltd HMB sign BT31 35913 1604

Back to the cure for whooping cough:  When I first saw the letter about the whooping cough cure in the Times, I was mightily puzzled.  My idea of ‘gas’ is based on natural gas from the north sea, with only a dim memory of when ‘gas’ meant something derived from coal or some other product (such as whale oil).  Of course the gas Henry was involved with was coal gas, the production of which involved huge capital investment in equipment and technology.  Henry was a member of the Gas Institute, originally known as the British Association of Gas Managers.  He actively promoted the cause of gas over electricity, for instance in  ‘Remarks on The Electric Light,[2] which summarised his views on why it was highly unlikely that electricity could ever take precedence over gas for lighting, owing to high costs and the need to replace the ‘candles’ every half hour or so. During the 1880s, though, the pressures of  technological developments in electricity were reflected in his annual reports to the shareholders of the various companies with which he was involved, although even just before his death in 1892 he was reporting that he didn’t think electricity would be a threat to gas in the supply of fuel for municipal lighting.

The gas involved in the ‘cure’ for whooping cough was that of the gas purifiers. The use of gas as a cure was not confined to this country or Europe.  A contemporary article about whooping cough shows that this was used in America as well[3]:

‘Several stories from around the turn of the century described crowds of children gathered at factories belching pollution, which was thought to be an effective treatment for whooping cough. “Gas As A Medicine: Chicago Factories Are A Whooping Cough Cure,” was the headline for one 1898 story that appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “One Place Last Year ‘Treated’ Three Thousand Children.” Another, appearing in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1893, read “Children At Gas Tanks: They Come To Inhale The Fumes For The Care Of Whooping Cough.”’  Google searching on ‘gas as a cure for whooping cough’ shows that this approach was used up until the middle of the 20th century!

The National Gas Archive:  TNA’s BT31 papers, combined with the newspaper adverts I have described above, allow me to see the breadth of Henry’s involvement as a businessman across the gas industry, and to learn more about the fortunes of that industry over a period of 40 years.  However, they don’t give much insight into his personality.  This was to come through his obituary which appeared in the Gas Journal, and which was sent to me by the Archivist at the National Gas Archive in Warrington.  Even allowing for hyperbole in obituaries, it offers some insight into a man who was not only a good businessman, but also someone who was respected and liked. Alas I can’t figure out how to reproduce it here – so that will have to await another day.  Suffice to say that Henry died on 30 November 1892.  We will look at his Will, and the fate of his wife and two daughters in the next blog.

[1] The Times 12 April 1819, and other dates

[2] Henry McLauchlan Backler, FRGS, FRHS. Remarks on the electric light, revised edition. Printed for private circulation by Waterlow & Sons Limited, London Wall, London, 1878.  This publication is held in the British Library.

[3] Chicago Tribune, 6 January 2012: Our whooping cough story, and why medical reporting is so interesting |By Trine Tsouderos


14. Susannah Maria (nee Backler) Raoux/Gott/Huxtable – first-born well-married daughter of John Backler, cupper

In which we consider the fortunes of  the first-born child of John Backler, cupper, and his wife Susanna Maria (nee McLauchlan).  Of young Susannah’s early years in exile in Paris, we know nothing.  But from her marriage in 1841 to Charles Raoux in Paris, we can follow her fortunes for the next 60 years during which she appeared to do very well indeed!

Susannah Maria McLauchlan Backler, named after her mother, was born on 21 January 1822 and christened in Christchurch Southwark on 18 August 1822.  At that time her father was rather in disgrace in Paris, and it is not clear whether or not he attended her christening.

First Marriage –  to Charles RAOUX: Our next sighting of Susannah is the marriage of ‘Marie Suzaune’ Backler, daughter of John and ‘Marie Suzaune Auclan’ to Charles RAOUX in Paris on 11 December 1841.  I can find no information about Charles other than the names of his parents, Jean Raoux and Marie Henriette Delorme, and there is no online record of his death before 1851.  Susanna Maria’s father John died in Paris in 1846, and presumably her husband Charles died before 1851, since she appeared as a widow in the census of that year, in the home of her future husband, the wealthy merchant William GOTT of Leeds.

Second marriage (twice?) –  to wealthy merchant William GOTT.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KP-St-Marks-Church.jpgThe 1851 census was taken on 30 March 1851.  It shows William Gott, 53, widower, woollen cloth merchant, living at Denison Hall, Hanover Square, Leeds, with 5 of his children, and Susannah Maria Raoux, visitor, widow, 29, born France – and innumerable servants.  This was rather distinguished company for Susannah Maria, the Gott family being one of the most prominent families in Leeds.  Four months later, Susannah was married to William at St Mark’s Kennington (pictured right, see note 1) on 28 July 1851.  Her brother Henry McLauchlan Backler – of whom we will learn much more in a later blog – had married there in 1846.  It seems possible that the marriage there was linked to his residence nearby.  I rode my motor bike past this church every day for many years en route to work in central London. It is an imposing building near the Oval tube station.

For reasons which remain unclear, William and Susannah were married again in 1853.  I have a copy of the Kennington marriage, from the Ancestry London Metropolitan Archives collection.  Yet less than two years later, another wedding was announced, this time in Blatherwyke, Northamptonshire, where Susanna’s half uncle Rev Sotherton Backler was vicar and Rural Dean.  We will learn much more about him later.  There are entries for both marriages on the GRO marriage registers. The following report appeared in the Leeds Mercury – and many other papers – for the 1853 marriage:

Leeds Mercury, Sat April 9, 1853.  On Wednesday at Blatherwycke, Northamptonshire, by the Rector the Rev. S. Backler, M.A., rural dean, uncle to the bride, WILLIAM GOTT, Esquire, of Little Woodhouse, Leeds, to SUSANNAH MARIA, daughter of the late John Backler, Esq, MD, and widow of  Monsr C. Raoux, of Paris    

In 1861 we find Susannah at the Gott family home at Bay Fort in Torquay.  The census entry tells us:

Bay Fort (now Bay Fort Mansions) Torquay

Bay Fort (now Bay Fort Mansions) Torquay

Susannah M Gott, 39, Wife of Head, Cloth Merchant, Born Paris
[Her husband William Gott, 64, woollen merchant and manufacturer, was staying at Armley House, Leeds, with his brother John Gott, a Magistrate and woollen merchant and manufacturer, employing 650 men and women and 150 boys and girls]
Margaret Gott, 38; Ann Gott, 32; Harriet C Gott, 20; all ‘daughter’ [in reality, step daughter] born Leeds, Yorkshire.
Robert Nairne, Visiting son in law, M.D. Trinity College, Cambridge, born China, Macau. [Named as Executor in William Gott’s Will]
Elizabeth, daur, 35, born Yorkshire, Leeds
Ethel M, Annie B, Maud M Gott, granddaughters, 4, 2, 3 months. Born St George Hanover Square except Maud, born Surrey, Richmond. 

But two years later, William Gott, who was said to have been in poor health, died in Patterdale.  His many accomplishments and interests are summarised in an extract [ref. 2] from The National Archives Catalogue of holdings in Leeds University Library special collections:

The third son [of Benjamin Gott], William (1797-1863), of Wyther Grange, inherited his father’s taste for fine art. He also built up a magnificent collection of rare books, now, unfortunately,dispersed, which included several early editions of the Bible, liturgies, and Shakespeare’s works. His papers include over 100 letters from art dealers (Dominic Colnaghi, John Sheepshanks), booksellers (Boone, Pickering), and book-collectors (Francis Fry). William Gott was active in encouraging public building in Leeds. He was the Chairman of the Building Committee when the extension to the Philosophical Hall was built, in 1861-62. About 20 letters from him to T P Teale, the Leeds surgeon, concern the planning and building of the new Leeds Infirmary in 1862 -63. He married Margaret Ewart (1795 -1844), daughter of the Liverpool merchant, William Ewart the elder (1763 -1823).  Harriet Gott (1795 -1883), who endowed almshouses at Armley, was William Gott’s unmarried sister.

Armley Mill, LeedsArmley Mills Industrial Museum:  Benjamin Gott and his sons were proprietors of what was once the largest woollen mill in Europe – Armley Mills.  The building now houses the Leeds Industrial Museum [note 3].  William is buried in the lavish family vault in Armley Church, his extensive ‘Gott Collection’ now featuring until Spring 2015 at the Hepworth, Wakefield.

Susannah did rather well from the provisions of his Will.  Amidst very many pages of legalese, it is possible to discern that the leases of the properties at Bay Fort and in Wyther were to be left in Trust for her use and that of his unmarried daughters, for their natural lives or until they married.  Susannah was to have £500 at once, and the income from £12,000 to be invested by the Executors, this income to continue to be for her absolute use even if she married again.  His effects were said to be ‘under £140,000’ – by far the most of anyone mentioned, through marriage or any other means,  in my family tree!

Third marriage – to Anthony HUXTABLE, a wealthy Churchman and agriculturist: The 1871 Census finds widowed (again) Susannah living at Bay Fort with her step daughter Margaret Gott, 48; step grand-daughter Mabel Elizabeth Smyth, 9; and five servants.  Conveniently living next door, in ‘Hawthornden’, were Anthony Huxtable, Head, 63, Archdeacon and Rector in Dorset, with his 73 year old (very wealthy) wife Maria Sarah Huxtable, 73.  They were looked after by eleven servants.  Both houses sat on the cliff tops overlooking Torbay.

Maria Sarah Huxtable died in an accident involving the lift at Hawthornden, and was buried on 8 May 1874 at Sutton Waldron, Dorset, paving the way for Susannah’s next marriage to Anthony HUXTABLE on 2 November 1875 at St James’ Piccadilly.  The ceremony was conducted by John Gott, D.D., William Gott’s son; one of the witnesses was Robert Nairne, son-in-law and executor to William Gott’s will.  It seems highly possible that Susannah’s brother Henry McLauchlan Backler and his wife Eliza might have attended this wedding.

The 1881 Census finds the couple in retirement at 35 Warrior Square,  St Leonards on Sea, Sussex – just them with 4 servants plus a Butler and a Page.  The Warrior Square houses are some 5 stories high plus a basement. But their married life was relatively short-lived.  The Will of the Venerable Anthony Huxtable late of Sutton Waldron in the County of Dorset Clerk formerly Archdeacon who died 12 December 1883 at St Leonards on Sea in the County of Sussex was proved at the Principle Registry by Susannah Maria Huxtable Widow the Relict and the Reverend Samuel Penrose Downing Clerk, both of Sutton Waldron and Henry McLauchlan Backler of 11 Austin-Friars in the City of London. Effects £88,714 14s 1d.

Inscribed in the burial register of St Bartholomew Church, Sutton Waldron, Dorset is the following: ‘Anthony Huxtable was rector of this parish from 1834 to 1871 – was appointed Archdeacon of Dorset in 1862 but retained the office only one year. He married Miss Langston daughter of the late Mr Langston of Sarsden, Oxon in  1840.  The church of this Parish was built by them (the old one being very dilapidated) and was consecrated in 1848′.   As well as his church-building project, he was an agricultural pioneer and was said to have worked tirelessly to improve the lot of his parishioners.  He researched and tried to put into practice new uses for manure, devising systems for collecting and using the manure from his pigs.  His lecture on The Science and Application of Manure, in 1847, apparently went through many editions.  He was a member of the Chemical Committee of the Royal Agricultural Society.

The wealthy widow lives til 1901:  Susannah Maria did very well by the provisions of Anthony Huxtable’s Will.  In 1891 we find her living on her own at The Birches, Ashbourne, Lawrie Park Gardens, Sydenham, in southeast London, with 7 servants, including a butler and a page, a single young woman companion, and the coachman with his large family living next door in Ashbourne Stables.  This wasn’t all that far from her two sisters, Sarah Knowles and Sophia Beaumont, who were living in Winbledon at the time.  Yet, with the exception of the clear links with her brother Henry, there is no sign that she was in touch with them – or, indeed – favoured them with any spoils of her Will when she died in 1901!

The total value of her estate was in excess of £56,000. Generous legacies went to numerous church charities, includingSusannah Huxtable charitable legacies the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Lands and its Women’s Mission Association; St Augustine College Canterbury; the College of Women Workers at Blackheath [The great aim of the Greyladies’ College is to bring together lonely women working in isolation without a definite plan, and also women who are possibly daughters in a large family and find it difficult to separate themselves from social distraction in order to follow religious and philanthropic work. It becomes a great happiness to such to be associated with people who are trying to make the world better. Many women emerge through such association from a life of narrowness and emptiness into one of breadth and satisfaction. The college (founded in 1893) is described as a society of ladies living together for the purpose of helping in the work of the Church of England under the incumbents of the diocese. The bishop of the diocese has ultimate control over all its affairs. The Greyladies work in twenty-two parishes in South London. [See Note 4]]; other church charities and then locally, two local National Schools and the local Infirmary for Sick Children.

There were legacies to godchildren; to her late husband’s Huxtable relatives; to various friends and servants.  Of her blood relatives, the only mention was a legacy of £1,000 to her late brother’s wife Eliza [nee Cole] Backler.  No mention of her sisters, and no mention of more distant – and much less well off – Backler cousins and half cousins.  Which perhaps makes sense, since Susannah’s great wealth was entirely due to the inheritances she had received from her two very wealthy husbands.

There are no further generations of Backler cousins descended from Susannah, so we will leave swaldron1her interred next to her last husband, the Venerable Archdeacon Anthony Huxtable by the church which he had built using his first wife’s wealth, and said by Sir John Betjeman to be ‘one of the best and most lovely examples of Victorian architecture’ –  St Bartholomew’s Church, Sutton Waldron, Dorset [note 5].





1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KP-St-Marks-Church.jpg

2. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/c8c11929-9c8d-47fb-a84d-2583f01d8a50. Gott papers.

3.  http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/Pages/armleymills.aspx

4. http://chestofbooks.com/food/household/Woman-Encyclopaedia-1/Religion-The-Greyladies-College-For-Women-Workers.html#.VK_nUyusWpA#ixzz3OKq54rqI

5.  http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/book/export/html/251