THE GILLESPIES

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


The Dowers family

We need some background information before we begin the story proper, so let's have a brief foray into French history. Princess Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France was the eldest child of King Louis XV1 and Queen Marie Antoinette, both of whom were guillotined in 1793, when the princess was in her mid-teens, although she knew nothing of this until 1795. That same year she was exchanged for some important French prisoners and in due course married her cousin, Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême.

Marie Thérèse of France (1778-1851), painted by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros 1817
Marie Thérèse of France (1778-1851), painted by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros 1817
Image source wikimedia

We have covered something of the French royal court in exile in Part 2 of our articles on the De Teissier family of Woodcote Park and Marie-Thérèse was heavily involved in the events following the restoration of King Louis XV111. Napoleon Bonaparte returned to France from Elba in March 1815 and there followed a period known as 'The Hundred Days'; the King again fled, but Marie-Thérèse, who was then in Bordeaux, resolved to stay put and enlisted the assistance of local troops, who agreed to defend her but said they would not engage in a civil war with Napoleon's forces (which had not yet fully arrived, although Napoleon had promised he would arrest her when they did). She decided to leave - in the nick of time, as the French Tricolour had already been hoisted in the city - and the man who sailed her out of Bordeaux to safety was Captain William Dowers RN, commander of the sloop HMS Wanderer.

This was the Captain's main claim to fame, although he had already experienced an action-packed career, but he had no chance to progress further, since he died at Antigua on 26 December 1816, aged only 31. (The fascinating story of the Duchess of Angoulême did not end when she left Bordeaux and the rest is on Wikipedia.)

In 1811, William Dowers, then of HMS Ringdove, had married Anne Ross at St Vincent in the Caribbean and they had three daughters, the last being Louisa Maria. The Ross family were very important people on the island and also major slave-owners. There are records showing that Mrs Dowers owned slaves, including small children of the slaves. We shall pause there, since we need to meet the Gillespies.

Note: In 1812 Captain Dowers had witnessed the eruption of the volcano, La Soufrière, which devastated much of St Vincent, and his account of it, although not relevant to this story, is well worth a read.

The Gillespie family

The Gillespies, a Scottish family, were in Canadian commerce and we shall begin with a Robert Gillespie, born 1785 in Douglas, Lanarkshire. In 1800 he went to Montreal to join his older brother, George, who was a partner in the firm of Parker, Gerrard & Ogilvy. Both George and Robert feature in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, along with many other businessmen they were associated with.

Many of the traders, including the Gillespies, dealt in fur, which is not something we want to dwell on nowadays, but Robert became a partner in the firm of Gillespie, Moffatt & Co, which was effectively a huge import/export operation in Montreal, specialising in the import of British manufactured goods and the export of such commodities as wheat and timber. In particular the company traded extensively with the West Indies, eventually plying a regular route between Quebec and Jamaica. To give you an idea of the scale of the operation, the Montreal warehouse could accommodate 10,000 barrels of flour, 20,000 bushels (one bushel is 8 gallons or 36.4 litres) of wheat, over 7000 barrels of beef and much more. The firm was also the Canadian agent for Phoenix Assurance, one of the first companies to sell fire insurance in Canada. George Gillespie died in 1842 at his Scottish residence, Biggar Park, South Lanarkshire.

Biggar Park, c.1867.
Biggar Park, c.1867.
Image source: Internet Archive Books via flickr.

Robert was also involved in the British American Land Company, which held vast tracts of land in Lower Canada, and helped found the Bank of British North America. He had a residence in York Place, Marylebone and a country seat at Spring Hill, Douglas, Lanarkshire.

Mrs Gillespie was Ann Agnes Kerr, born in Canada and married to Robert in 1816 at Niagara, Ontario; there were eight children, several of whom did not live to any great age, and only Robert Junior continued the Canadian trading connection. Robert Senior died in 1863, followed by Ann in 1868. The Dictionary of Canadian National Biography seemed to find it puzzling that Robert Senior had left effects valued at under £ 50,000 in the UK, even though that would equate to around £ 5-6 million today, but the key may be 'in the UK'. It seems quite likely that a man with such extensive overseas interests would have had assets elsewhere that didn't come into the UK assessment.

Anyway, we have now set the scene and can proceed with the story.

Robert and Louisa

Following her husband's untimely death, Mrs Dowers returned to England with her children and on 25 October 1842 at Southampton Louisa Maria married Robert Gillespie Junior. Robert, born in 1818, still seems to have been living in Marylebone (33 York Place, Portman Square) with his family at that time. The couple's only child, Robert William, was born in August 1843.

Mrs Louisa Maria Gillespie
Mrs Louisa Maria Gillespie
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The Gillespies were still all together at 33 York Place in the 1851 census, with Louisa's mother and sister at Number 32. There was clearly some connection between the Gillespies and Epsom as early as 1854, for there is a newspaper report of a grand and swanky charitable event at Woodcote Park, then the seat of the Baron de Teissier, and one of the guest stall-holders mentioned, in amongst Mrs Lucy Andrews, Mrs Dearle and several other well-known local ladies, is 'Mrs Gillespie'.

Mrs Dowers died in February 1861 and Louisa's aforementioned sister, Elizabeth Ann, 47, was with the Gillespies at Down Lodge, Church Street in that year's census. There are indicators that Robert was somewhat irascible, for in summer 1861 there was an unseemly altercation involving his groom, Charles Hoare. According to the Sussex Agricultural Express of 18 June 1861, Hoare was brought before the magistrates charged with assaulting his master. It seems that Robert went into the stable and saw more straw lying about 'than he considered requisite'. He remonstrated with Hoare, who then became insolent, so Robert told him the sooner he left the better. Hoare didn't go and continued his insolence, so Robert tried to take him by the collar and throw him out, but Hoare avoided it and then tried to 'do some violence' to a horse. Next, Robert did throw him out but Hoare used foul and abusive language, came up behind his master and 'dealt him a violent blow on the right temple'. Robert then thought he hit Hoare but, if he did, it was unintentional. Hoare then gave him a kicking. The groom had made many counter-accusations, all of which Robert denied. Unfortunately, I don't know the end of this story, since the Sussex Agricultural Express promised the rest on the forthcoming Saturday, but I can't find it! However, it seems unlikely that Hoare was still working for the Gillespies by the end of that week.

There were other servants who stayed with the family for a very long time and who presumably did not give any trouble; we shall look at them later, since we have some photos.

After Epsom

By 1868 the Gillespies had moved to Bolney in Sussex, where they had an estate called Gravenhurst (now Farney Close). Robert gave up Gravenhurst during the 1870s and in 1881 it was the home of Lt. Philip Woolley, father-in-law of Edward Feetham Coates of Tayles Hill, Ewell. Louisa Maria died on 16 April 1877 at Turvey, Bedfordshire and she is buried in the cemetery there. Robert had a town house at 81 Onslow Gardens, Kensington, which was his abode in the 1881 census, along with a new wife, Louisa Eliza. The marriage had taken place on 7 April 1880 at St Mary Magdalene, Paddington. This Louisa (born 1832 St Pancras, daughter of merchant Edward English) had married merchant William De Lannoy in 1856: he was 40 years her senior. Mr De Lannoy died in 1878 at his house, 88 Lansdowne Place, Hove.

Although the Gillespies had other abodes, they seemed to live in Hove for much of the time and the next residence was 33 Palmeira Mansions. This set of terraced townhouses was a new-build at the time and Number 33 on the corner, now a Language School, is the grandest of them all and Grade II* listed (the other houses in the terrace do not have the asterisk), but not because of the Gillespies. In fact, the asterisk is down to Arthur Mason, an ink tycoon, who bought the house in 1889, spending vast sums of money and many years decorating the interior to his own taste and the Language School allows a local guide/historian to conduct tours there once a month.

33 Palmeira Mansions, Church Road, Hove
33 Palmeira Mansions, Church Road, Hove 2010
Photo by "The Voice of Hassocks" via wikimedia

Since Mrs Gillespie 2 died at Number 33 on 19 May 1888, I surmise that Mr Mason bought the house from Robert. The latter moved to 13 Lansdowne Place, Hove and then to 11 Eaton Gardens, Hove (no longer standing); he was knighted in 1891 and died on 15 April 1901.

The servants

Before we move on, I should mention three of the Gillespies' very long-standing servants, who were the butler, Charles Patient, (born c.1829 Moreton, Essex), Miss Ann Harris (c.1818 East Peckham, Kent) and her daughter Margaret Ann (born 4 November 1843 Streatham). This will sound something like that children's card game of Happy Families, since we have photos of the butler, the cook, the housemaid, another maid and the groom, but we don't know who all of them are; it is also possible that we have one of the housekeeper.

Parking Mr Patient for a moment (we know who he was and what happened to him), in the 1851 census the unmarried Ann Harris was listed as a nurse in the household of Robert Gillespie Senior, so she clearly had very long service with the family. I don't know where Margaret was at the time, but she didn't show up in the census. However, by 1861 she was in Epsom as a 17 year old housemaid under the command of her mother, Ann, who was then the Gillespies' housekeeper.

I am pretty confident that this next photo is Margaret Harris: she is labelled 'Gillespies Margaret' on the negative wrappers.

Miss Margaret Ann Harris
Miss Margaret Ann Harris
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

This leads to a question: is a photo described as 'Miss Harris, Epsom' Miss Ann Harris, the housekeeper? Have a look.

'Miss Harris', possibly Miss Ann Harris
'Miss Harris', possibly Miss Ann Harris
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

I think the age is about right and the nose seems similar to that of Margaret - plus, the props are largely identical in both nature and position, which normally means the photos were taken at the same time, given that Cuthbert constantly shuffled the furniture and changed other items. Ann and Margaret stayed with the Gillespies and were last sighted in 1881, when Robert was in Brompton with Mrs Gillespie 2. If anyone knows what happened to the Harris ladies, please let us know.

We are on much firmer ground with the butler, Charles Patient. As mentioned, he hailed from Moreton in Essex, which was mainly agricultural, and I think that the family moved to the nearby village of Bobbingworth, which was full of Patients. I imagine that there wasn't much of a future there for lads like Charles, as most of the male adults were agricultural labourers and, with the number of children they produced, there wouldn't have been enough of that work to go round locally. Anyway, Charles became a butler/valet and was with Robert Gillespie from at least 1861 until 1891. Here he is (Cuthbert has now artfully swapped the ornate table for a plinth/column).

Charles Patient
Charles Patient
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Charles was with Robert in the 1891 census at 13 Lansdowne Place, Hove, but died on 27 December of that year, then residing in Ipswich (although that may have been a temporary address for the Christmas holidays - on investigation, the address was a pub called the Suffolk Artillery Arms, run by his widowed sister, one Sarah Fox).

Before we leave the servants, we have three more Epsom photos, which are the cook, the groom and 'Mary'. We believe that the cook is probably Miss Catherine Griffiths from Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, but apparently she didn't go to Bolney with the Gillespies and I have been unable to track her down.

'Gillespies cook', possibly Catherine Griffiths
'Gillespies cook', possibly Catherine Griffiths
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

And then we have a groom. You may recall that there was a big and violent falling-out in 1861 between Robert Gillespie and his then groom, Charles Hoare, so this photo is highly unlikely to be Hoare. If you know who he is, please contact us.

'Gillespies groom', name unknown
'Gillespies groom', name unknown
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Finally, we have 'Mary', who cropped up in neither the 1861 nor 1871 census. I would guess that she was a housemaid, but have been unable to identify her.

'Gillespies Mary', surname unknown
'Gillespies Mary', surname unknown
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

You may wonder why there is a whole batch of Gillespie servants, which is fairly unusual for the Hopkins portfolio: my theory is that the Gillespies were preparing to move from Epsom to Bolney and that Mrs Gillespie had the servants photographed because some of them weren't going. It may be, therefore, that she ordered several sets and gave a set to each individual, which could mean that a few people out there possess an old print of one of them. We would like to identify all of them for sure, if we could, so email the webmaster if you have information.

Robert William Gillespie (later Gillespie-Stainton)

As mentioned, there was only one Gillespie child and, for a time, he was an underwriter. In 1873 he married Edinburgh-born Josephine Stainton and assumed the surname of Gillespie-Stainton. Josephine was the daughter of Joseph Stainton of Biggarshiels, Lanarkshire, who had died in 1845, and she inherited that estate, which then became the Scottish seat of her husband. However, the main abode of the Gillespie-Staintons was Bitteswell House, Lutterworth, Leicestershire.

Bitteswell House
Bitteswell House
Image by © Dave Thompson Via geograph.org.uk (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Josephine died at Bitteswell on 9 November 1894, aged 48, and in 1900 Robert married Lilian Swann, daughter of the Rev. John Bellingham Swann (formerly a Navy paymaster). Robert died on 15 December 1918 and at some point Lilian moved to the lovely village of Lindfield, Sussex, where she lived in the former vicarage, Church Cottage (now Grade II listed). She expired on 15 February 1942. As far as I am aware, Robert William Gillespie-Stainton had no children and, therefore, the line of Sir Robert Gillespie became extinct.

Linda Jackson 2018