John Backler (c. 1780-1846)

13. John Backler (1780-1846) – Apothecary, Cupper – and ‘outlaw’

In which we consider what is known about the life and career of Sotherton Backler and Frances Harris’ son John, a cupper, and his flight to Paris.  

The report of the hearing at the Court of Common Please was unequivocal.  ‘[John] Backler had .. been outlawed and was out of the country.’  John Backler’s father was the eminently respectable Sotherton Backler (1746-1819), an apothecary and Clerk to the Society of Apothecaries.  John was the fourth of Sotherton’s 13 children, the youngest of four children born before the [presumed] death of his first wife Frances Harris.  What circumstances had led to the hasty departure of John from England for Paris, where he died in 1846?

John and Hannah Backler christening 1780Thanks to their father’s close association with the Society of Apothecaries, most of his children were christened in nearby St Ann Blackfriars.  John was christened on the same day as his sister Hannah.  Sotherton and Frances had married in Stoke Newington on 11 February 1777.  Their oldest child Sotherton was christened on 5 January, 1778 (but died in December 1786), and his sister Frances on 23 May 1779.  This surely means the double christening on 11 June 1780 was of twins?

On 17 August 1790, John was enrolled at St Paul’s School, which was in St Paul’s Churchyard, just around the corner from his home at Apothecaries Hall.  No further information about his time at St Paul’s has been found.  His career at the Society of Apothecaries is more easily traceable in a fragile card index  which summarises all the mentions of its members through several centuries, compiled by Cecil Wall, a one-time clerk to the Society.  It shows that John was apprenticed to his father on 5 April 1796, and was admitted to the Yeomanry in 1803.  This meant that he was a member of the company, and having been apprenticed, he was probably admitted by ‘servitude’ rather than by patrimony.  There is no indication, though, that he was ever elected to the ‘Livery’ of the Company, the economic and social elite of the membership, who were entitled to wear the company’s ‘livery’.

I have found no details of John’s early life as an apothecary.  There was a thriving trade at Apothecaries Hall, where there was a laboratory for the manufacture of drugs, and a salesroom.  His father would have been occupied with his duties as Clerk, but John may have worked with his younger half-brother Samuel, some 4 years John’s junior,  who had been admitted to the Society by patrimony after the Master to whom he had been apprenticed had died.  An 1811 directory finds both John and his father Sotherton in residence at Apothecaries’ Hall (and Samuel at his premises in Bedford Street, Covent Garden).

A cupper: John’s practice as an apothecary centred on the ‘art’ of cupping, an ancient practice involving the placing of heated cups on the body at different points, to draw out the ‘humours’.  Cupping could be ‘dry’ (just using the heated cups), or ‘wet (involving scraping of the skin on which the cup was placed, to draw out blood).  This is sometimes known as blood-letting.  As the heated cups cooled, the vacuum they created drew up the skin, causing marks which remained when the cups were removed.  The hot cups could also cause burns.

Mapleson book on cuppingJohn entered into partnership with Thomas Mapleson, a well-known cupper to the Prince Regent and then King.  The premises of this partnership were in Golden Square, at the corner of St John Street, in the City of London.  Mapleson was the author of ‘A treatise on the art of cupping: in which the history of that operation is traced; the various diseases in which it is useful indicated and the most approved method of performing it described’.  This 80-page tract was first published by the author in 1813, and reissued in 1830.

Fraudulent dealings and flight: However, the partnership was not to last.  On 2 December, 1820, John married Susanna Maria McLauchlan in the safety of the port of Dover,  presumably on his way to Paris, shortly after his partnership with Mapleson  had been dissolved in October, 1820.  The rather sordid details of the alleged fraudulent dealing of bills of exchange between Backler and a man named Chartres (subsequently transported to Australia) can be seen in Chancery papers (C 13/283/17,  6 May 1822) and a lengthy report in the Morning Chronicle.  In ‘Wills v Mapleson’, heard in the Court of Common Pleas on 10 December 1823, Frances Wills was seeking recompense from Mapleson on account of a fraudulent bill issued in autumn 1820 by Backler in the name of the partnership.  Since Backler was ‘now outlawed in Paris’, Mapleson was being held to account, even though the partnership had been dissolved at around the same time as the exchange of the bill.   The upshot of the case was that the jury found for the plaintiff, and Mapleson had to pay £115.  The next year, Mapleson tried to produce new evidence to support his claim that he was not responsible for the Bill, but this attempt failed.

In his case to Chancery, Mapleson had reported:

The Times 1 September 1820

‘the said John Backler had shortly previous to the dissolution of the said partnership became embarrassed in his circumstances and had unknown to your Orator (as your Orator has lately discovered) published an Advertisement in the newspapers in the words following [see advert from The Times 1 September 1820] that is to say, “Money, the Advertiser wishes for the loan of Two hundred and fifty pounds for two years the most liberal terms will be offered the situation respectability and principles of the Advertiser will be no barrier, Address letters post paid with real name and address to X.X. Battys Coffee House behind the new church Strand” as by the said Advertisement will appear and your Orator sheweth that one George Chartres a man then in desperate circumstances answered the said advertisement …’  Chartres had in effect swindled Backler out of large sums of money, andthe fraudulent bills were passed to Frances Wills, who sought recompense from Mapleson.

By this time, John Backler was well away, having married Susanna Maria McLauchlan (born around 1890 at Landguard Fort in Essex).  Their first child, Susanna Maria was said to have been born in Paris in January 1822, but christened at Christ Church Southwark in August 1822.  Her father’s address was given as John Street West, but it is not clear whether at that time he was in England or not.  What seems fairly certain, however, is that after the above court case, he remained in Paris until his death in 1846.  There are various references to the ‘noted English cupper’ Mr. Backler.  For instance On 1 May 1832 The Times reported in its ‘French Papers’ section, from Galignoni’s Messenger’, in an article which discussed official returns for cholera, and the system of cupping:  ‘they have therefore had repeated recourse to the English cupper, Mr Backler, Hotel de la Marine, No 23: rue Gaillon, whose skill and experience have been constantly exercised with the best results.’

Successive editions of Gallignani’s ‘New Paris Guide’ show Backler in 1827 at 15, rue Trainee, St. Eustache; in 1830 at Hotel de la Marine, rue de Gaillon No. 23;  in 1839 at rue Neuve St. Roch, No. 49;  and in 1841 at rue Rameau, No. 7.

While carrying on his successful career as a cupper, Backler and his wife produced a number of children, whose christenings in Paris are recorded in nonconformist records.  Their son became a highly successful businessman,  whose two daughters had tragic ends.  The three daughters married (one very very well, and several times), while another son has yet to be traced after his birth in Paris.

12. Sotherton Backler (1746-1819) – the last years

In which we consider events at the Society of Apothecaries during Sotherton’s reign as Clerk, and record his demise in 1819.

Sotherton Backler was elected Clerk to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries on 15 January 1806, just days after the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson (see previous blog).  In this role he administered the workings of the Society, in particular recording proceedings in his immaculate hand in the Minute Books of the Court of Assistants.  His years as Clerk were to be of great importance for the Society.

The history of apothecaries as a trade or profession was long one of rivalry between different types of practitioner, ranging from physicians and surgeons to chemists and druggists, and from tradesmen to medical practitioners.  The rivalry with the Physicians was resolved at least in law by the case of apothecary William Rose in 1704. The House of Lords over-ruled his conviction for treating a butcher name Searle. This established the right of apothecaries to practice medicine, and changed the role of the Society from one of subservience to the physicians to a more complicated multi-purpose function of both professional and trade regulation, as well as trading in its own right.  This dual nature was to persist right through to the Apothecaries Act of 1815.

sotherton backler TIMES 1815 soc apothIn the period leading up to the passage of the Act, Sotherton, among others, was engaged in considerable negotiation and lobbying. The Society, initially reluctant to accept change, in the end took on the role of formalising a curriculum and overseeing examinations which, along with apprenticeship, attendance at lectures on such topics as anatomy and physiology, and other matters, led to the Licentiateship of the Society of Apothecaries, precursor to what we now know as General Practice.  (The extract right from The Times of 21 July 1815, announces the changes which the Act brought.) At the same time, chemists and druggists, who during the latter part of the 18th century had begun to usurp the dispensing role of apothecaries, began to formalise their own training and qualifications, resulting in the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1841.

Despite the formalising of apothecaries’ education and training, a sore point remained their inability to charge for medical advice or attendance – a hangover from earlier days of dispute with the physicians.  Apothecaries could only charge for medicines, until a court case in around 1830 ruled that they could also charge for visits and medical advice, thus reducing their previous tendency to over-prescribe medicines in order to cover their costs for practising, in effect, as general practitioners.

The Society’s records yield evidence that Sotherton Backler lived at Apothecaries Hall during at least part of his tenure as Clerk.  His wife Hannah had died in April 1803, leaving Sotherton with a large number of surviving children presumably still at home.  It seems likely that some of the older siblings would have taken charge of the household and care of the family.  On 20 March 1807 the Society was in receipt of a letter from the Secretary of the London Bridge Water Works, revealing the discovery by the Collector of the Water Rents that there might be a supply to Apothecaries’ Hall over and above that already known, ‘to the Dwelling House of Mr. Backler, for which he [the rent collector] has received an Annual Payment of £1-8-0…’  The letter asserted that additional water was now found to be supplied to ‘a large Back and two Cisterns’, estimated value of £10 a year.  The Board suggested a payment of £200 to cover arrears of water supply for an unknown period!  However, by May, it had been decided on further examination that there was no service of water other than to Mr Backler’s house, and there the matter rested, useful indeed in our ascertaining Sotherton Backler’s residence at least at that time.

And so his duties – and presumably residence – continued until 0n 23 August 1816, Sotherton Backler ‘resigned his situation as Clerk to the Society, but was requested by the Court to continue in it until a proper person is chosen in his room…’  By the 30th of October, this had been achieved, and ‘it was resolved that the Thanks of this Court be given to Mr Sotherton Backler, for his faithful and diligent discharge of the Duties of Clerk of this Society for many years past, and as a small testimony of their perfect approbation of his services, he be presented with a piece of Plate of the value of Fifty Guineas.’

rubbing 18 June 2012Hannah and Sotherton Backler and Mary SudlowIt is presumed that Sotherton then ceased residence at the Society.  On 7 January 1817, the Court Minutes noted a payment to S. Backler for coals, of £9 – 14s – 0d.

Sotherton died on 12 September 1819 in Kentish Town, and is buried with his wife Hannah and grand daughter Mary Sudlow at Bunhill Fields Burial Ground. The death duty registers show that he died intestate – unfortunately for family historians.  (Death Duty Register IR27. Register October 1819, p. 10 Ref: Vol 2, Folio 392.  IR27_28_018[1]) Administration was to his oldest son by his first marriage, about whom we will hear in later blogs: John Backler, 19 Golden Square, Westminster.

A touching endnote was the application by John to the Court of Assistants on the 26th of October 1819, ‘soliciting the Benevolence [of the Court] in favor of two daughters of the late Mr Backler and the same having been read and taken into consideration, Resolved that the sum of Fifty Pounds be given to Frances Backler [1779-1833] and Anna [Hannah] Backler [1780-1870], daughters of the late Mr. Sotherton Backler in equal shares between them.  On 21 December 1819, the Court Minutes note that letters of thanks were received from both daughters and John Backler.

And there ends the direct association of the Backler family with the Society of Apothecaries.  In subsequent blogs we will first trace the life and times of the two apothecary sons of Sotherton – the above-named John Backler, and his half-brother (my 3x great grandfather), Samuel Backler. We will then look at other descendants of Sotherton Backler.

9. The Family of Sotherton Backler 1746-1819 with his wives Frances Harris and Hannah Osborne

I which I set out the families of Sotherton Backler with his first wife, Frances Harris and his second wife, Hannah Osborne.  I know little about the wives, but quite a bit about their offspring!  The story becomes quite complicated for some of them, so I sketch just a very brief outline here. Later blogs will follow the different families in turn.  I will look at my 3x great grandfather Samuel Backler and his descendants after I have covered all the others.  But in my next blog I will trace what is known of the career of Sotherton Backler, Clerk to the Society of Apothecaries.  His period of office spanned (just) the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson, and the Apothecaries Act of 1815m a very important landmark in the regulation of the medical profession.

IMG_3340 (2)

Sotherton Backler, Clerk to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, married twice, first to Frances Harris on 11 February 1777, at St Mary’s Stoke Newington (the old St Mary’s, pictured).  Witnesses were Hannah Harris, John Freeman and Nathl Jennings.  John Freeman was most likely Sotherton’s brother in law, married in 1770 to his sister Ann.

Four children of Sotherton and Frances Harris

Sotherton and Frances had four children:

Sotherton Backler (1778 – 1786).  Nine year old Sotherton was buried at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, the companion church to St Ann Blackfriars, on 30 December 1786 – not a very happy Christmas for the Backler family, since this burial took place just just 14 days after the burial of Sotherton’s infant half-brother Thomas (see below).

Frances Backler (1779 – 1833).  Frances fared better than her older brother Sotherton.  She was christened on 23 May 1779 at St Ann Blackfriars, the local church for the Society of Apothecaries.  She was buried at Bunhill Fields Burial ground in October 1833, having been brought from Hampden Street, Somers Town.  Several Backlers and related families seemed to have lived in this area, which is east of Euston Station and north of Euston Road.  Hampden Street can be seen on the map through the link below.

Hannah Backler (c. 1780-1870) and John Backler (c. 1780-1846) These two were christened on 11 June 1780 at St Ann Blackfriars – were they twins?  Hannah later lived at the Jeffrye Almshouses with her half-sister Sarah Anne.  John was the first of Sotherton’s sons to become an apothecary, and will also feature in a later blog.  He and his descendants have fascinating stories to tell.

Is it possible that Frances died at or soon after the birth of the twins?  No death or burial record for her has been traced to date.

Nine children of Sotherton and Hannah Osborne

Sotherton then married Hannah Osborne (c. 1763 – 1803) on 3 October 1782, in Bocking Essex.  Could she have been the daughter of Thomas Osborne, whose signature appeared alongside Sotherton’s in the London Sessions Court document mentioned in my last blog?  So far it has not been possible to trace details about Hannah, although there are some possible leads in Bocking awaiting perusal.

Hannah and Sotherton had nine children:

Sarah Ann Backler (c.1783-1857) was the eldest, christened at St Mary Stoke Newington on 10 August 1783. Sarah Ann died in 1857 at the Jeffrye Almshouses in Shoreditch.

Samuel Backler (1784-1870) – my 3x great grandfather, also christened at St Mary Stoke Newington: a not-quite-qualified sometime apothecary, tobacconist and chemist, about whose business, bankruptcy and eventual demise we will hear about in blogs to come. Samuel married Mary Pellatt in 1810.

Thomas Backler – born and died in 1786 – christened at St Ann Blackfriars on 8 May 1786, and buried at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, 16 December 1786 – just 14 days before his older half-brother Sotherton.  Both were buried in the church.

Joseph Backler – christened January 1788, died 1848.  A famous artist in stained glass, whose son Joseph became a noted convict artist in Australia – much more about them and others of Joseph’s offspring to come. Joseph married Jane Cowie.

Elizabeth Backler – christened 25 June 1789 at St Ann Blackfriars and buried 14 May 1791 at St Andrew by the Wardrobe

Mary Backler – christened 13 April 1791 at St Ann Blackfriars. Married to John James Joseph Sudlow, Solicitor. Died in Southampton 7 March 1860

Benjamin Backler – christened 18 June 1793 – nothing further known about him

Jane Ozella Backler christened 17 February 1795. Married Daniel Burton.

Thomas Osborne Backler christened St Ann Blackfriars 3 August 1796. Buried St Andrew by the Wardrobe 2 December 1796.  Given the traditional naming patterns in this family, and the fact that there was already one son ‘Thomas’, born and died in 1786, I feel the name of ‘Thomas Osborne’ was likely that of Hannah’s father.  This remains to be proved.

Sotherton Backler christened St Ann Blackfriars 4 August 1798.  Died Blatherwycke Northamptonshire 19 November 1875.  No children but lots of information about the Rev Sotherton Backler, and his links with different branches of Backler descendants, including the family of his aunt Mary Backler, married to John James Joseph Sudlow; and the family of his half uncle John Backler, cupper, who had had to flea to Paris to avoid court dealings in around 1820.  As far as I know, his was the last use of the name ‘Sotherton Backler’.