Born in 1744, Bowes John Gibson was the next-to-last child, and only son, of my 6 x great grandparents John and Mary Gibson. In the last couple of posts I’ve discussed the lives, marriages and children of Bowes John’s sisters. In this post, I’ll summarise what I’ve been able to discover about his own life and those of his children.

Early life

The first thing to say is that Bowes John Gibson’s first name remains something of a mystery. He was obviously named ‘John’ after his father, but ‘Bowes’ could be a family name, or it might be a tribute to a friend, business associate or even hero of John’s. As we shall see, Bowes John would himself give a number of his children the names of naval or military figures, at least one of whom I believe he knew well.

Six years before he was born, Bowes John Gibson’s parents had taken possession of Woodredon, their country estate near Waltham Abbey in Essex, a gift from Mary Gibson’s widowed mother Mary Greene. Although, like his siblings, Bowes John was born in the family’s London house at Tower Hill, it is likely that he spent much of his childhood at Woodredon. If my speculations about John Gibson’s career are correct, then the early years of Bowes John Gibson’s childhood would have coincided with his father’s bankruptcy and imprisonment. One of the reasons I remain uncertain as to whether John Gibson, the coal factor who was imprisoned in the Fleet, was identical with my 6 x great grandfather, is that he and his wife Mary had two children (Bowes John and his sister Sarah) during these years, and that they managed to keep possession of Woodredon until after John’s death in 1763. Not only that, but their children did not seem to be unduly affected financially by these supposed disasters. Their daughters all made ‘good’ marriages: that is, they all married men of either property or respectable professions. And Bowes John himself, as we shall see, was not held back from launching a successful career with the East India Company.

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Ships of the East India Company

Given that later career, it’s almost certain that at some stage Bowes John was sent away to school, probably in London: possibly at Merchant Taylors, where a number of his forebears had been educated. I’ve found no record of his attendance at a university, and given what we know of the family’s history, it seems more likely that Bowes John would have been apprenticed, perhaps to a London merchant, as his nephews John William Bonner and John Godfrey Schwartz would be some years later.

What we don’t know, since the records are unavailable, is the precise route that Bowes John Gibson took to reach the position that he had attained by 1790, when London directories described him as an auctioneer and broker in the service of the East India Company. It’s possible that he spent some time in the service of the Company overseas. Neither do we know whether Bowes John’s path to a career with the East India Company, which would also provide employment for two of his sons, was made easier by the fact that a number of his distant relatives had held prominent positions with the Company, and that one of them, Henry Crabb Boulton, was actually its chairman, as well as a prominent Member of Parliament, at about the time that Bowes John was coming of age.

First marriage to Elizabeth Hindley

The first definite record that we have for Bowes John Gibson after his baptism dates from 13th October 1766, when he was almost twenty-two years old. It was on this date that he married Elizabeth Hindley at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, the location confirming that he, with his widowed mother Mary and unmarried sister Sarah, had already made the move from Tower Hill to Mile End Old Town. Elizabeth was said to be from the parish of St Mary’s in Lambeth, but I’ve been unable to find out anything more about her.

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Rear Admiral Sir Edmund Affleck (via Wikipedia)

There were two witnesses to the marriage. One was Bowes John’s younger sister Sarah Gibson. The other was a certain ‘Edmd. Affleck’. Two decades or so later, when Bowes John Gibson’s sister Sarah came to write her will, she would leave twenty pounds to ‘my godson Edmond Affleck Gibson son of my … brother Bowes John Gibson’. I’ve yet to find a baptismal record for Edmond, but since he must have been born some time between 1766 and 1789, he was definitely the child of Bowes John’s first marriage to Elizabeth Hendly. It also seems likely that he was named after the Edmund Affleck who witnessed Bowes John’s and Elizabeth’s marriage. However, the more interesting question is whether that person was the Sir Edmund Affleck, later baronet, son of Gilbert Affleck of Dalham Hall, Suffolk, who served as a naval officer, attaining the rank of Rear Admiral in 1784, two years after distinguishing himself in the Battle of the Saintes in the Caribbean, and who served as M.P. for Colchester from 1782 till his death in 1788? He is certainly the only Edmund Affleck that I can find in the records. Affleck would have been in his early forties at the time of Bowes John Gibson’s marriage and probably still a naval captain. Is it possible that Bowes John Gibson had served under Affleck (there was a difference of about twenty years in their ages), or that they had encountered each other through the former’s work for the East India Company?

The next record that relating to Bowes John Gibson that we have is for the baptism of his first child with Elizabeth – a daughter named Esther or Hester – at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 8th August 1767. Bowes John is described as a gentleman and their address is given as Mile End Old Town. We know from a database of Mile End Old Town residents that ‘Mr John Bozey Gibson’, described as a ‘gent’, and his wife Elizabeth, occupied a house on the north side of Mile End Road and that, certainly by 1768, John’s mother Mary was living on the southern side of the same road.

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Bermondsey, from Horwood’s 1792 map, with Long Walk visible below parish church and close to Bermondsey Square

The baptismal record for the next Gibson child is intriguing, both because it indicates a change of address, and because it seems to suggest that Bowes John was not at this stage working for the East India Company. Ann Gibson was christened at the church of St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, on 9th February 1771. This was the church at which Bowes John’s sister, and my 5 x great grandmother, Elizabeth had contracted her second marriage, to Joseph Holdsworth, some eight years earlier, and where members of his sister Frances Bonner’s family would christen their children a decade or so later.

The Gibson family’s address was said to be ‘Grange’, which might mean Grange Road, or it could denote a general area, in which case it could be the same house that they were living in three years later when their address was Long Walk, on the other side of Bermondsey Square (see map above). When Ann was christened, her father’s occupation was given as ‘brewer’. How are we to interpret this? Had Bowes John retired from a maritime career by this stage, or was he yet to begin his association with the East India Company? The occupation is intriguing because we know that, towards the end of his life, his father John Gibson had also set himself up as a brewer, with the support of his mother-in-law Mary Greene. Did Bowes John inherit his father’s business?

When his third child, a boy, was baptised on 10th July 1774, Bowes John Gibson was once again being described simply as a ‘gentleman’ and now the family’s address was definitely Long Walk. The name that Bowes John gave to this first son – Grey Dockley – might be a tribute to another relative or friend. There was a Dockley family living in Bermondsey around this time, and Edmund Dockley, a gentleman of the parish of St Mary Magdalene, made his will in 1789, though he makes no mention of the Gibsons nor of any relative with the first name Grey. As we shall see, the Dockley name would be kept alive by Bowes John Gibson’s son John Thomas, who named one of his sons Charles Dockley Gibson, but this may have been in memory of his brother, rather than a tribute to the Dockley family.

The Gibsons were still living at Long Walk when their son John was born two years later. He was christened at the church of St Mary Magdalene on 21st July 1776, three weeks after the American colonies declared their independence from Britain. A daughter named Mary Ann was born at the same address, and baptised at the same church on 28th February 1780.

A year later another son was born at Long Walk and christened on 15th April 1781. Despite my best efforts, I’m still unable to make sense of the child’s name in the parish register. There seem to be three names: the first beginning with ‘S’ has been transcribed by Ancestry as ‘Silvamens’, the second might begin with a ‘C’ and be something like ‘Crossen’ or ‘Crosser’, and the third might be ‘Hood’. Given Bowes John Gibson’s habit (as we shall see) of naming his sons after military and naval heroes, I wondered if ‘Hood’ might be a reference to Sir Samuel Hood who took part, with Edmund Affleck, in a famous encounter with the French navy in the Caribbean at about this time?

Less than a year had passed before another son was born to Bowes John and Elizabeth Gibson. George Milsom Gibson was christened at St Mary Magdalene on 7th January 1782. From what I can gather, the original George Milsom was an officer in the Madras Native Infantry: interestingly, the same force in which George Milsom Gibson himself would later serve. I haven’t come across any information suggesting that Milsom was a nationally-known figure, so once again it’s possible that Bowes John Gibson knew him personally, perhaps because of his own service either in the military or with the East India Company (if the two can be so easily differentiated). Might George Milsom have been George Milsom Gibson’s godfather, and perhaps his mentor in his later military career?

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An 18th century gentleman’s house on Mile End Road: remains of Malplaquet House, built in 1741

By contrast, the name of Bowes John Gibson’s next son, John Thomas, seems quite pedestrian. By the time this child was born, in 1785, the Gibsons seem to have moved back across the Thames. John Thomas Gibson was baptised at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 13th September 1785, when the family’s address was given as Mile End Old Town. A daughter, Matilda Ann, would be born there two years later and christened on 8th October 1787. Three years later, Bowes John Gibson’s last child with his first wife Elizabeth was born. Carleton Gibson was baptised at St Dunstan’s on 17th May 1790. The child may have been named after Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Carleton , the British Army officer who had led the eponymous raid against American revolutionary forces in 1778: he died at Quebec in 1787. Once again, it’s difficult to determine whether Bowes John named his son as a tribute to a national hero, or in memory of a friend or comrade in arms. At the very least, Bowes John’s naming habits for his children suggest a fierce patriotism and a close interest in military and naval affairs.

I’ve yet to find records for two other children who we know were the product of Bowes John Gibson’s first marriage. The will of his unmarried younger sister Sarah Gibson, made in 1789, mentions her nephew and godson Edmond Affleck Gibson (see above) and her niece Elizabeth Gibson, both said to be the children of her brother Bowes John Gibson.

We know that at least two of the children from Bowes John’s marriage to Elizabeth died in infancy: Matilda Ann in 1789 at the age of two and Carleton in 1794 at the age of four. Both were buried at St Dunstan’s. Grey Dockley Gibson also died in 1794, but he would have been twenty years old at the time. There is a burial record for him from Brading, described in the record as being in Hampshire but actually on the Isle of Wight, on 31st July that year. The name is so unusual that it must be the same person, though why he was living in Brading is a mystery: is there a naval connection, perhaps?

Esther was the first of Bowes John Gibson’s children to marry. On 21st September 1790 she married Thomas Lay at St Dunstan’s church. Her parents were both witnesses, as was Susanna Ford, the sister-in-law of Bowes John’s nephew John William Bonner, who had married Sarah Ford nine years earlier (Bowes John was one of the witnesses). Thomas Lay was a mariner and perhaps also a shipbuilder. He and Esther made their home in Mile End Old Town and would have at least two children, the first named Bowes John after his grandfather being born in 1792, and the second, William Henry, in 1797.

Bowes John Gibson’s first wife Elizabeth died in the early days of 1793 and was buried on 12th January at St Dunstan’s church. No information is given in the parish register about the cause of death, but one imagines that she must have been exhausted after giving birth to at least twelve children in the course of twenty-seven years of marriage. 

Second marriage to Mary Catherine Bretman

Six years after the death of Elizabeth, and when he himself was already fifty-five years old, Bowes John Gibson married for a second time. He married Mary Catherine Bretman on 6th April 1799 at the church of St Matthew, Bethnal Green. I assume that this was Mary’s home parish, but if so, that’s all I’ve managed to find out about her. I suspect that Bretman is a German name, and that Mary might have belonged (like Charles Gottfriend Schwartz, who married Bowes John’s sister Ann) to the burgeoning community of German merchants and manufacturers in East London.

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There’s something curious about the births of Bowes John Gibson’s next two children. On 28th October 1798, Edward and Eliza Gibson, described as the son and daughter respectively of Bowes John and Mary Gibson, were baptised at St Matthew, Bethnal Green, the same church where Bowes John and Mary would be married a little less than six months later. Edward was said to have been born on 15th November 1796 and Eliza on 1st October 1798. If it weren’t for the birth dates of these two children, one might imagine that they had actually been born to Bowes John’s first wife Elizabeth, and that their baptisms had been delayed for some reason. As it is, either the date of Bowes John’s second marriage is wrong, or we have to imagine that they had two children out of wedlock, albeit when they were engaged to be married. Alternatively, perhaps Bowes John and Mary were initially married in a different kind of ceremony (in a German church, perhaps?) and the wedding at St Matthew’s was by way of an Anglican blessing on an existing union. This would certainly explain the relatively long delay between Elizabeth’s death and Bowes John’s second marriage: one imagines that a middle-aged man with a large number of children, at least two of them under ten years old, might have been in a hurry to marry again.

Mary Catherine Gibson would be almost as prolific in childbearing as her predecessor Elizabeth, producing a further six children in the next twelve years or so. James Charles Gibson was baptised at St Dunstan’s on 20th October 1800; William Henry on 9th March 1803; Elizabeth on 25th May 1804 (presumably her namesake from Bowes John’s first marriage had died by this time); Matilda Henrietta on 25th July 1810; and Bowes Charles on 30th July 1817, though he was actually born six years earlier in 1811.

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Charles Edward Horn

The second of Bowes John’s children to marry was John Thomas Gibson, who married Henrietta Eliza Horn on 20th February 1811 at the church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, in Bloomsbury. Henrietta was the daughter of the noted German-born composer Charles Frederick Horn (another German connection) and the French-born Diana Arboneau Dupont. Henrietta’s brother Charles Edward Horn, a musician, singer and actor, had been at school with John Thomas Gibson and his brother George, and from his memoirs we gain a fascinating insight into their early lives.

In writing about his days as a weekly boarder at South Lambeth school, Charles mentions his friendship with George and John Gibson, as well as with their mutual friends Henry and John Laing. He notes that ‘the Gibsons and the Laings were our constant visitors as boys from school on Sundays, and this was continued till their departure from school for good and to become cadets for the Indian Service’ (p. 22).

On leaving school, both John Thomas and George Gibson entered military service in India, while their old schoolfriend  Charles Horn trained as a musician and earned money as a music teacher. Among his pupils were ‘two Miss Cohens in Goodman Fields, for 5 shillings a lesson, two taking a lesson in one hour, twice a week’. He writes:

My teaching at Mr Cohen’s and Miss Babbington’s went on, and my visits in Goodmans Fields were often [di]versified by visiting old Mr Gibson and his daughters for, although my schoolfellows and associates were in India, it was delightful to go a[nd] see the old place we used to see our friends in.

A footnote explains that the ‘old Mr Gibson’ referred to here is ‘Bowes John Gibson, bap 1744, father of John Thomas Gibson and George Gibson’. Bowes John would have been in his late fifties by this time (which was ‘old’ by contemporary standards, perhaps). I’m not sure which of his daughters would still have been alive and living at home at this date: his eldest daughter Esther Gibson had married in 1790; if they survived, Mary Ann and Matilda Ann from Bowes John’s first marriage would have been about twenty and thirteen years of age respectively, while Eliza from his second marriage would only have been two or three years old. Three more daughters, Elizabeth, Emily and Matilda Henrietta, would be born in 1803, 1805 and 1809 respectively.  ‘The place we used to see our friends in’ was almost certainly Bowes John Gibson’s house in Mile End Old Town, assuming he had not moved from there since the last land tax record we know about, which was taken in 1790. It would have been a short walk from Goodmans Fields along Whitechapel High Street and Mile End Road.

George Milsom Gibson was married two years after his brother John Thomas. On 22nd September 1813 George married Eliza Harriet Wilson at Fort St George, Madras. Eliza was almost certainly the (illegitimate?) daughter of Welsh-born merchant Thomas Parry.

According to one source:

Parry came to Madras in 1788 and by 1794 he was married to Mary Pearce, widow of a civil servant of the city. Parry’s marriage was not a success, for Mrs. Parry disliked Madras. In 1806 she took her two children and left for England where she lived for the remainder of a rather long life. Parry consoled himself with the local delights. He almost certainly fathered a Miss Eliza Harriett Wilson at whose marriage to Major George Gibson he and his business partner Dare officiated as witnesses. Her son was named George Parry Gibson. 

Another source relates that in 1823 ‘Parry and 10 year old George Parry Gibson (his son?) went to South Arcot to visit his indigo factory in Porto Novo and was smitten by Cholera and died soon after.’ George Parry Gibson was, of course, Thomas Parry’s grandson, not his son.  By this time, the boy’s father was dead, since George Milsom Gibson passed away less than a year after his marriage to Eliza Wilson. The inscription on his tomb in the Old Cemetery at Visakhapatnam, India, reads as follows:

Sacred to the memory of Major George Milsom Gibson Commandant 1st batt[alion]. 2nd Reg. N[ative] I[nfantry] who departed this life 5 May 1814 Aged 33 years. 

It’s unclear whether George died of natural causes or on active service. Nor do we know what became of his widow or his son.

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Tombs in the Old Cemetery at Visakhapatnam (via schickrobert.blogspot.com)

Bowes John Gibson died at the age of 73 in 1817 and was buried at St Dunstan’s church on 28th August, four weeks after the baptism of his youngest son Bowes Charles. The parish register records that Bowes John Gibson died of old age, and was buried in the family vault. In his will, made some thirteen years before his death, Bowes John notes that the children from his first marriage have all been ‘handsomely provided for’ and only mentions by name his daughter Esther and sons George Milsom (who in the event predeceased him) and John Thomas Gibson. This suggests that, in addition to the children already mentioned who died in infancy and youth, five other children – Ann, John, Mary Ann, the mysteriously named ‘Silvamens’, Elizabeth, and Edmond Affleck – probably did not survive to adulthood.

The surviving children of Bowes John Gibson

Bowes John Gibson’s widow Mary made her own will of 1826, in which she mentions her children Edward, Emily, William Henry, Elizabeth, Matilda Henrietta and Bowes Charles. We know that another son, James Charles Gibson, had died in 1819, at the age of 19: he was buried in Chelsea, so I assume he was living there at the time. We also have to assume that Eliza, born in 1798, had predeceased her mother.

As for William Henry Gibson, someone with that name was buried at the Wesleyan Burial Ground in Globe Fields, Stepney, on 12 December 1830. He was 28 when he died, and his address was said to be Charles Street, just a short distance from the original Gibson family home in Mile End Old Town. If this is the right person, then presumably he had undergone a Methodist conversion in his youth, leading him to depart from the staunchly Anglican habits of his family. There’s a suggestion that William may have married into the Nonconformist Slark family before his early death.

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Barnsbury Square, Islington

Bowes Charles Gibson, the youngest child of the family, died in 1837 at the age of twenty-four, at Barnsbury Square, Islington. He left everything to his sister Matilda Henrietta, who I believe lived at the same address. She was certainly resident in Barnsbury Square, with a female servant, at the time of the 1841 census. Matilda died four years later, at the age of 32.I’ve failed to find any further reference to Edward Gibson, who would have been 24 years old when his mother died in 1826. Someone with the same name was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in 1842, though he was said to have been born in 1796.

Emily Gibson was married at the church of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate on 18th November 1835, when she was already thirty years old.The groom was John Godfrey Grove, who was born in Hackney and was the son of a clerk in the Naval Office. Is it simply coincidence that John Godfrey had the same Christian names as her distant relatives John Godfrey Schwartz the elder and younger, or is there a family connection? John and Emily Grove had one daughter, also named Emily, before John’s early death. By the time of the 1851 census, his widow and teenage daughter were working as a governess and monitor respectively at a charity school nearly Bromley in Kent.

As for Bowes John’s daughter Elizabeth Gibson, she married lighterman and Custom House agent Richard Aldridge in 1842, but the latter died in 1848 and there were no children from the marriage.

Of all of Bowes John Gibson’s children, we know most about the family of his son John Thomas Gibson. Information about his military career is less easy to come by, though we know that most of it was spent in Madras, in the service of the East India Company, and that he rose to the rank of Major General. Certainly, all of John and Henrietta Gibson’s nine children appear to have been born in India. They were: Louise Grace (born 1811); Mary Emma (1815); John James (1816); Charles Dockley (1818); Edmund (1819); Thomas Wheatley (1823); Henrietta Elizabeth (1824); Matilda (1827); and Edward Samuel (1829). Of these, we know that Mary Emma and Emma both died at the age of two and Matilda at the age of one. I can find no further records for Edmund or Edward Samuel, nor are they mentioned in his father’s will, so I assume that they did not survive either.

John Thomas and Henrietta Gibson’s eldest daughter Louise Grace married George Briggs, a captain in the Madras Artillery, probably sometime in the 1830s. John and Henrietta’s eldest son John James Gibson served as a captain in the 20th Regiment of the Native Infantry. He was married with children, though I can find no record of his wife or offspring. He predeceased his father, date unknown.

Charles Dockley Gibson graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge in 1841. The census taken that year finds him living in Fulham High Street and working as a teacher. However, by the time of his marriage, on 3rd June 1843, at the church of St John, Hampstead, Charles had taken holy orders and was described in the parish register as a clergyman, living at Corton in Suffolk. His father John Thomas was described as a general in the army. Charles’ bride was Louisa Laing, daughter of John Laing, a gentleman of Hampstead (he was one of the Laings who had been at school with the John Thomas and George Milson Gibson and Henrietta’s brother Charles Frederick Horn: see above).

Charles Dockley Gibson proceeded to the degree of M.A. in 1847 and in 1848 took up an appointment as an army chaplain, returning to India, the country of his birth and still the home of his parents and a number of his siblings. Apparently Charles held a number of posts, serving at St George’s Cathedral in Madras from 1849-57, and at Fort St George from 1862-65 and 1866-68. At one stage he was the chaplain of St John’s church in Vellore. According to one source his father built a small church near his home at Kotagherry, perhaps intending that his son would serve as its incumbent. According to another account, Charles Dockley Gibson was ‘very popular in society on account of his pleasant manners and various accomplishments, and probably on account of his relationship to many Madras officers, civil and military.’ The document continues:

His brother was in the Madras Army, and two of his sisters were married to officers in the same. He had sufficient influence to serve most of his time in Madras. He was on the committee of the Additional Clergy Society during nearly the whole time he was in the Presidency town.

However, his influence was not enough to prevent Charles being removed from Fort St George in 1868, ‘for a neglect of duty’, following a complaint from the General Office Commanding. He died in the following year at Calicut. He was 51 years old. I’m not sure what became of his wife Louisa, or whether they had any surviving children.

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Nilgiri Hills, India (via onthegotours.com)

On 7th December 1847 Thomas Wheatley Gibson married Italian-born Isabella Schneider at Chigwell, Essex. From later census records, we can gather that Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and served as a captain in the Indian army.

Henrietta Elizabeth Gibson married another Indian army officer, Henry Temple Hillyard, probably some time in the 1840s, possibly in India. Henry would rise to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the 14th Madras Native Infantry.

John Thomas Gibson died in 1852 at Kolergherry in the Neilgherry or Nilgiri Hills, India, leaving his house there to his daughter Louise and her husband Captain George Briggs, who was also appointed as one of the executors of his will. From John’s failure to mention his wife Henrietta in his will, we can assume that he had predeceased her.

Postscript

From this account we can conclude that all of Bowes John Gibson’s surviving children joined the ranks of the prosperous Victorian middle-class, and that a number of them achieved significant status in the expanding British Empire. This stands in striking contrast to the experience of Bowes John’s sister Elizabeth, my 5 x great grandmother, who ended her life in straitened circumstances, and whose children and grandchildren would work as tradesmen and shopkeepers in the cramped streets of London’s East End. Elizabeth and her family will be the subject of my next post.

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