Sir Thomas Townsend Bucknill

'Tommy' by 'Spy'
'Tommy' by 'Spy' from Vanity Fair 10 May 1900.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Townsend 'Tommy' Bucknill was MP for Epsom from 1892 to 1899 and made his homes at Woodcote Lodge, Epsom and Hylands House. He vacated his seat on being knighted and raised to the Bench. Both his step-son and one of his sons were also judges. Unlike some of the other MPs, he played a very large part in Epsom life and was much mourned by its residents when he died.

Thomas was born in Exminster, Devon on 18 April 1845, son of John Charles Bucknill (1817-97) and Mary Ann Townsend (1818-89) - married 3 May 1842 at Hillmorton, near Rugby, Warwickshire. His elder brother, John Townsend Bucknill (1843-1935), was an officer in the Royal Engineers and the younger, Charles (born 1846), emigrated to Australia, where he died in 1895.

John Charles Bucknill was a doctor who specialised in mental illness and he was also a pioneer in the Volunteer movement, which later became the Territorial Forces, for which work he was knighted in 1894 - see http://en.wikipedia.org. Thomas's early years were spent at the Devon County Asylum in Exminster, where his father was the Medical Superintendent.

Sir John Charles Bucknill
Sir John Charles Bucknill.
Image source: Wellcome images

Mary Ann Townsend/Bucknill.
Mary Ann Townsend/Bucknill.
Image courtesy of Andrew Bucknill ©2013

Before we get to Thomas properly, let us take a brief look at his brother John Townsend, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel; he married Catherine Raworth Morris (died 1922) in 1868. They had three daughters (Ethel, Gertrude and Helen, all unmarried), followed by two sons, John Charles and Llewellyn Morris, both of whom were killed in the First World War.

John Charles, born 1879 Ditton Hill, Surrey, had been an architect but was keen to fight and joined the 4th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1914. He was posted to India and then Mesopotamia (predominantly Iraq with pieces of Syria and Turkey thrown in). Having been mentioned twice in despatches, he was killed in action on 21 January 1916 and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial; he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Llewellyn Morris, born 1881 in Notting Hill, was a regular officer in the Royal Field Artillery and rose to the rank of Major. He was shot in the spine in France on 16 May 1915 and died two days later; he is buried in Bethune Town Cemetery (Grave II.H.6), near Arras. He was also twice mentioned in despatches.

John Charles Bucknill Llewellyn Morris Bucknill
John Charles and Llewellyn Morris Bucknill

We can now return to Thomas Townsend Bucknill. He was educated at Westminster School and Geneva and was originally earmarked for the army, but he was blinded in one eye during a fight at school, which rendered him unsuitable for military service: consequently he became a barrister and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1868, the year after his marriage to Sarah Elizabeth Depree. Apparently he made no money at all throughout the first three years of his career.

Sarah (born c.1844 Donington, Sussex) was the daughter of James Clark Depree, a plumber, and Olivia Elizabeth Cathery, a music teacher. James and Olivia were never together in censuses and I rather think they had separated. He had been in the Marshalsea debtors' prison in the 1830s and in the 1871 census he was an inmate of Westhampnett Union Workhouse, Sussex; he died in 1874. Olivia had long since moved to London, where she died in 1882.

In 1877 Thomas Bucknill petitioned for divorce on the grounds that Sarah had on several occasions committed adultery with a John Lawrence Macpherson in the summer of 1877, which those parties denied: the decree was made absolute on 5 November 1878. Macpherson was an officer in the Royal Engineers, who died in 1908, but I have no further information about what happened to Sarah. According to one newspaper report she had begun to show 'intemperate habits' in 1873 and she and Thomas had separated. There had been various unsuccessful reconciliations but, when not with her husband, she was apparently with Captain Macpherson.

In February 1877 a lady called Mrs Annie Bell Hare (nee Ford, born 1852 Hastings) petitioned for divorce from her husband, John Strachey Hare, on the grounds of his cruelty (i.e. physical assault) and adultery with several women for almost the whole duration of the marriage: this decree was made absolute on 13 November 1877.

On 21 December 1878, just weeks after his divorce became final, Thomas married Annie Hare.

The Hares had two children, both born in Clifton, Bristol, who were Julia Beatrice (1871) and John Alexander Strachey (1873). We will return to them later since, although Thomas and Annie's first marriages seem to have been airbrushed out of existence as far as biographies are concerned, he did take on her offspring, who were known by the surname of Bucknill thereafter.

Albeit that he had not been suitable for the army, Thomas was a keen sportsman who golfed, fished, rode and hunted regularly and he was a founder of the Epsom Rifle Club. It was said that he preferred horses to the legal profession, which he once described as 'all briefs and bamboozling'. In 1885 he became Recorder of Exeter, a post he held until 1899. By 1884 he had become the tenant of Woodcote Lodge in Epsom and then, by 1891, he was in Hylands House. At the 1892 General Election he stood for Parliament as the Conservative candidate following the elevation of George Cubitt to the peerage and won the Epsom seat by 5,123 votes to 2,720. In 1895 he was re-elected unopposed and resigned the seat in 1899 when he was knighted and appointed to the Bench.

Thomas was very active in local public life: he was a member of the Epsom Local Board, an Alderman in the first Surrey County Council, chairman of the committee that erected the Epsom and Ewell Cottage Hospital, a member of the Epsom Brotherhood [LINK] (although he also attended St Martin's Parish Church), president of the local RSPCA branch and he worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. On the outbreak of World War 1 he even joined the Special Constabulary. He was also a prominent Freemason and had been Grand Master of the Provincial Lodge of Surrey.

The Western Times of 24 February 1904 spoke of him as follows:
'If I were to decide who is the most popular man at the Bar,' Sir Frank Lockwood once declared, 'I should say Tommy Bucknill, with Dick Webster as proxime accessit*'; and this judgement would be endorsed by almost every man who wears wig and gown.' 'I do wish you'd call me Tommy,' he used to say quite pleadingly to any too respectful junior. At Epsom Sir Thomas is a great favourite. Big man though he is, he has a nod and a smile for everybody, and he knows and loves a horse as well as any of them. At one time he had a stud of his own, with the great Constable as one of his stable-boys. He has ridden many a stiff race across country, and may still be seen most mornings galloping over the Downs.
*the person coming next
Note: Dick Webster was Viscount Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice at the time of this article. Constable was Henry Constable, the Derby-winning jockey.

Sir Frank Lockwood by 'Spy'
Sir Frank Lockwood by 'Spy' from Vanity Fair 1887.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

One of Thomas's most celebrated cases as a judge was that of Frederick Seddon, who had murdered his lodger with arsenic extracted from fly papers (Mrs Seddon was also tried, but was acquitted). On being convicted Seddon was asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed (there was only one sentence at this time - death), whereupon he lifted his hand to take the Freemason's oath and swore by the Great Architect of the Universe that he was innocent. I will let someone else take up the story from here: this is an extract from 'Trial of the Seddons', edited by Filson Young and published by W Hodge in 1914 (see http://openlibrary.org ) which tells us something of how a judge - or this judge at least - must have felt when passing a death sentence.

The Judge's secretary, who sat beside him, had lifted a square of black cloth and held it in his hand. A figure in a black gown had glided in at a side door and stood behind the Judge's chair; it was the chaplain. The secretary arranged the black square on the Judge's wig. Then the high tones of the usher sounded through the Court, crying the proclamation for silence while sentence of death is passing. The doors of the Court were locked. Seddon listened attentively, scrupulously, as though every word were vital.

And the quiet, gentlemanly tones of the Judge began again, admonishing the prisoner. But every now and then his voice dropped to a whisper. He reminded Seddon that they were members of the same brotherhood, but that it was a brotherhood that did not encourage crime, which condemned crime. He spoke gently of the wife, saying that, if it was any comfort to the prisoner to know it, he could tell him that he believed the verdict of the jury with regard to her was a right one. Seddon nodded in acquiescence at this, as he did again when the Judge spoke of his having had a fair trial. Twice only he interrupted the Judge, but in quiet and civil tones. Once, when the Judge spoke about his terrible position, he said quietly, 'It doesn't affect me, sir - I've a clear conscience,' and once again, when the gentlemanly faltering voice implored him to make his peace with God, Seddon said, 'I am at peace'.

And I do believe he was the most peaceful man in the Court. The Judge was all but sobbing, and had to pause and brace himself before he could begin to utter the sentence, which he finished in tears, while the black-gowned figure behind him murmured 'Amen', But Seddon was calm, and when it was all over and while the Judge, wiping his eyes, was excusing the jury from attending for ten years …

Frederick Seddon being sentenced to death - click to enlarge
Frederick Seddon being sentenced to death by Mr Justice Bucknill at the Old Bailey, March 1912.
Click image to enlarge
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Frederick Seddon
Frederick Seddon.
Image source: Wikipedia

The following pair of anecdotes, told by Thomas himself, appeared in an Australian newspaper, The Port Pirie Recorder and North Western Mail, on 3 September 1914:
When acting as Vacation judge he intimated that he would be found at home between the hours of twelve and two. 'One day,' he says, 'shortly before the stroke of twelve, I went to the golf-course and was just about to drive off when a reproachful voice behind me exclaimed, "Mr Justice Bucknill! Mr Justice Bucknill!" I then saw two gentlemen in silk hats and with brief-bags, which put me off my stroke. I held a court there on the downs and gave someone an injunction which he did not deserve.'

On another occasion, when out shooting, he was accosted by two legal gentlemen and there and then granted an interim injunction in a certain pending action. On the case coming into court, counsel said, 'Your Lordship may remember this case,' to which he replied, 'I do indeed, because I nearly killed a pheasant, a barrister and a solicitor with one barrel.'
Thomas Townsend Bucknill was known as Tommy and an obituary described him thus:
'a man of charming courtesy and geniality, and that simple and kindly nature of his, which was ever asserting itself, was not put aside when he donned the judicial robes. He was very bright, alert and human, and he thus enjoyed the name of being a thorough sportsman'.
In his later life Thomas was in indifferent health, suffering from a weakened heart, which led him to retire from the Bench in February 1915, having been appointed a Privy Councillor in the preceding year. Also in 1914 he had returned to live at Woodcote Lodge because, it was said, of the disturbance caused by heavy motor traffic near Hylands House. He died at the Lodge on 4 October 1915 and was buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave A89A). Annie was buried with him when she died on 9 November 1924.

Here is another extract from an obituary for Thomas. 'In Epsom he was loved by all, and how could it be otherwise seeing what an important part he played in the public life of the town? The man who had been called "the most popular man at the Bar" may truly be said to have been the most popular man in Epsom.'

As I mentioned earlier, there were two children of Annie's marriage to John Strachey Hare and I will tell you more of them in a moment. First, though, here is a list of the children Thomas and Annie had together.

Grace Born 1879, died 1886.*
Alfred Townsend Born 1880, died 1963.
Eva Born and died 1882. *
Thomas Drake Born 1884, died 1935.
Annie Margery Born 1889, died 1893.

*originally buried at Kensal Green Cemetery but disinterred and buried at Epsom Cemetery in 1893.

Julia Beatrice and Sir John Alexander Strachey Bucknill

These were the children of Annie's first marriage and they changed their surname from Hare to Bucknill.

Julia was a noted artist who specialised in portraiture and exhibited at the Royal Academy. In 1929 she married widower Colonel Edmund John Hollway (c.1858-1939), who had been a career army officer in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. Julia died on 23 January 1945.

John Alexander Strachey Bucknill, born on 14 September 1873, was a keen ornithologist and lepidopterist and in 1900, while still living at Epsom, he published 'The Birds of Surrey', which has just come out again as a reproduction. In later years he wrote further books on the birds of Cyprus and Singapore and other books on coins (he became president of the Numismatic Society of India in due course). However, writing was not his main job - he was originally a barrister, later a judge.

John was educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Oxford and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1896. His career was spent mainly overseas and in 1902 he became Commissioner of Patents and Legal Adviser to the Government of Transvaal. In 1907 he was appointed the King's Advocate in Cyprus and was a member of the Legislative and Executive Councils there. After a spell as the Attorney-General of Hong Kong from 1912 he became Chief Justice in the Straits Settlements (i.e. Singapore and much of what is now Malaysia) in 1914; he was knighted in 1916 and in 1920 became Puisne Judge of the Patna High Court, India. He died suddenly at Patna on 5 October 1926.

In 1901 John had married Alice, youngest daughter of Admiral Sir George Richards FRS (a most interesting man - see http://en.wikipedia.org) and they had three daughters, who were Mary Alice Hare (born 1902 Epsom), Honor Bell (born 1904) and Elizabeth (possibly Annie Elizabeth, 1909-1925). Alice returned to England after her husband died and lived ultimately at Hill House, Eversley, Hampshire; she died on 23 June 1959 at Killearnan, Ross and Cromarty, where I believe she would have been on a visit to her daughter Honor.

Mary Alice married John Harold Hogshaw (born 1896 Bengal, died 1968 Sussex), who became a Brigadier in the army, in 1927; she died on 27 July 1960 in Berkshire, although her home was at Hill House. Honor Bell married Colonel Ronald Douglas Martin Capel Miers DSO (1902-74) of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; she died on 15 March 1994 and they are buried together in Ross-shire.

Sir Alfred Townsend Bucknill, OBE, PC

Alfred Bucknill in 1908
Alfred Bucknill in 1908.
Image courtesy of Andrew Bucknill ©2013

Alfred's first name was actually Thomas, which is rather odd, since he had a younger brother called Thomas, but he was known by his second forename of Alfred. He was, of course, a barrister, educated at Charterhouse and Trinity, Oxford and called to the Bar in 1903. During the First World War he served in France and Egypt as an officer in the Surrey Yeomanry and was latterly a Major on the Headquarters Staff of Irish Command in Dublin. He was knighted and raised to the Bench in 1935 as a Justice of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division; he specialised in shipping and in 1939 was appointed to head the official inquiry into the loss of the submarine HMS Thetis which sank during diving trials in Liverpool Bay on 1 June 1939. The inquiry report was published on 5 June 1940 and revealed that this terrible disaster had been precipitated by a misapprehension that the bow cap of a torpedo tube was closed, whereas it was actually open, allowing an inrush of water which prevented the vessel from surfacing. Thetis went to the bottom, killing 99 men (including shipyard workers) from carbon dioxide poisoning; there were just four survivors. Alfred was of the opinion that the attempted rescue could have been quicker and differently executed but attributed no blame.

A Page from the Auckland Weekly News concerning the sinking of Thetis.
A Page from the Auckland Weekly News concerning the sinking of Thetis.
Click image to enlarge
Image source: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19390628-41-1

During the rest of the summer and the early autumn of 1939 Thetis was brought to the surface and taken to Anglesey. Having been repaired, she was recommissioned as HMS Thunderbolt in 1940 and saw service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The luck of this jinxed boat finally ran out on 14 March 1943, off Sicily, when it is thought that she was depth-charged by or collided with an Italian corvette: she went to the bottom once more and this time she stayed there. All 62 of the crew were lost and the wreck lies off Cape San Vito, Sicily. One of the deceased was Lieutenant John Edgar of Ashtead, Surrey - see http://www.ryemeadows.org.uk.

HMS Thunderbolt and some of her crew in Holy Loch, Scotland, March 1942
HMS Thunderbolt and some of her crew in Holy Loch, Scotland, March 1942.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1905 Alfred had married Brenda Boulnois (born1879 Exeter). Their children, both born in Chelsea, were Margaret (1907-21) and Peter Thomas (1910-87). Peter was a barrister and became a QC in 1961; he married Elizabeth Mary Stark (1911-91) in 1935. Brenda died on 4 September 1953 in Edinburgh and Alfred, who was appointed to the Privy Council in 1945, died on 22 December 1963 in London.

Grave of Margaret Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Grave of Margaret Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert and Hazel Ballan © 2013

Grave of Alfred Townsend Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Grave of Alfred Townsend Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert and Hazel Ballan © 2013

Grave of Peter Thomas  and Elizabeth Mary Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Grave of Peter Thomas and Elizabeth Mary Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert and Hazel Ballan © 2013

Brenda Boulnois/Bucknill.
Brenda Boulnois/Bucknill.
Image courtesy of Andrew Bucknill ©2013

Margaret Bucknill
Margaret Bucknill.
Image courtesy of Andrew Bucknill ©2013

Peter Bucknill and his wife, Elizabeth
Peter Bucknill and his wife, Elizabeth, on the occasion of his taking silk, 1961.
Image courtesy of Andrew Bucknill ©2013

Thomas Drake Bucknill

Thomas was also a barrister and lived in Epsom for many years; he married Phyllis Edelsten (born 1884 Enfield, Middlesex) at Christchurch, Epsom on 1 June 1909. Their children were John Anthony (born 1912), Thomas Vernon Peregrine (1915-16), Thomas Richard Townsend (1918-65, married Mary Drummond-Payne 1947) and June (born 1923). Thomas died in London on 13 August 1935 and is buried in Epsom Cemetery (Grave A441) with his son Thomas Vernon Peregrine. Phyllis died in 1972.

Grave of Thomas Drake and Thomas Vernon Peregrine Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Grave of Thomas Drake and Thomas Vernon Peregrine Bucknill, Epsom Cemetery
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert and Hazel Ballan © 2013

John Anthony Bucknill married Isabel Margaret 'Peggy' Dent (1916-2002) in 1939. During the Second World War he was a Captain in the Royal Armoured Corps, Inns of Court Regiment, and was killed in action on 18 July 1944 during the Normandy Landings; he is buried in Banneville-La-Campagne War Cemetery, Calvados (Grave IV.A.16). The couple lived in Painswick, Gloucestershire and had two daughters.



Linda Jackson
March 2013




 Art
 Family History
 Health
 Map
 Nature
 People
 Places
 Society
 Sources
 Technology
 Trade
 Transport
 War Memorials

 Contact
 Sitemap
 What's New
 Home

Email:


Donate to The History Centre
HV Usill
HV Usill
Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page
Page Family
Page Family
TH Snow
TH Snow
JA Larby
JA Larby
J Harrison
J Harrison
Foundlings
Foundlings
Nonsuch Mansion
Nonsuch Mansion
New Stables
New Stables