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Saturday 29 May 2010


The Acramans are cousins of ours – John Acraman’s mother Mary Castle was my great great grandfather’s sister. They were a successful Bristol family with interests in merchant shipping and ironworks – John’s father made ships’ anchors and chains amongst other things. Acraman’s warehouse on the quay at Bristol still stands, and now houses the Arnolfini Gallery in the city.

John Acraman, sheep-farmer and sportsman (c1829-1907)

A Bristol tea-importing venture, Acraman, Bush, Castle & Co, failed in 1846; and John emigrated to Australia in 1848 to build the family’s business interests in Adelaide. In the partnership of Acraman, Cooke & Co he built a thriving import-export business. In 1854 he formed Acraman, Main and Lindsay which operated four coastal ships and a relatively small sheep-farm (around 30,000 head) on two areas or "runs" on the Eyre peninsula, called Gum Flat and Maryvale (the latter named after his mother).

He later moved his operations to a vast area further west, where his two holdings (called Yardea and Wilgena) covered in total some 2,200 square miles. Yardea alone cost £50,000 to develop because of the need to install wells and fences. At the height of his success he and his partners were sheering around 150,000 sheep. Changes in the law about land ownership in the 1884 Crown Lands Act substantially reduced the size of the runs and eventually he withdrew from the industry and became a pillar of the Adelaide business community. His name survives in the landscape in Lake Acraman, a crater lake north-west of Adelaide, and in Acraman Creek Conservation Park on the coast south-west of the lake.

Back in 1854 one of John’s early imports into the colony had been a consignment of five footballs. It is clear that this was no mere business decision and that he was himself a keen footballer: in 1860 he met other interested parties at the Globe Inn in Adelaide to discuss the establishment of a local football club, of which he was (in the early games of its existence) player-captain. He became in time president of the Adelaide Football Club, and on its formation in 1877 a vice-president of the South Australian Football Association. In 2002 he was one of the inaugural inductees into the South Australian Football Hall of Fame, which describes him as the Father of South Australian Football.

Saturday 22 May 2010


This is No.4 in my infinite and occasional series of Austin Coopers. It could also form part of a Tall Tales From The Trees mini-series on assassination. Elsewhere in this blog I’ve written about John and William Gurney, who were both caught up in attempts on the lives of British Prime Ministers. This Austin however (my great great grandmother’s brother) was himself murdered. By mistake, so the story goes, although having read round it a little, I’m not convinced.

A modern-day back-to-back trap
(this one from Denver, CO)

Austin, a Protestant bishop, was on his way to Tipperary Fair in a back-to-back trap (one in which two passengers faced forward and two backwards). His cousin and neighbour Francis Wayland sat beside him and his brother Samuel held the reins. All three were armed, as well they might be. They were all powerful landowners in the area, part of the protestant settler class who had ruled over the native population, in some cases for hundreds of years but in few cases by popular acclaim.

Since 1823, when Daniel O’Connell had formed the Catholic Association to campaign for Catholic electoral rights, unrest had become more active and deliberate. Rents at the time were in the form of tithes to the Protestant Church, a system which the Catholic peasants naturally resented and against which they fought the so-called Tithe War, a campaign of non-payment and violent protest. The Protestant powers responded by simply evicting unruly tenants. With no further redress within the law, frustrated Catholics turned to more direct ways of making their grievances heard.

"When a tenant is removed," said the Devon Commissioners, describing Tipperary in 1845, "he is looked upon as an injured man, and the decree too often goes out for vengeance upon the landlord or the agent, and upon the man who succeeds to the farm; and at times a large numerical proportion of the neighbourhood look with indifference upon the most atrocious acts of violence, and by screening the criminal, abet and encourage the crime. Murders are perpetrated at noon-day on a public highway; and whilst the assassin coolly retires, the people look on, and evince no horror at the bloody deed."

Withholding tithes from a Protestant minister
(19th century cartoon)

On the 5th April, 1838, somewhere between Ballinaclough and Greenane on the back road from Golden to Tipperary, the trap was ambushed. Reports vary, but between three and eight men with blackened faces leapt out from concealment below the roadside and opened fire. Austin was killed immediately, and Wayland died later from a fatal bullet wound in his back. Samuel returned fire, fatally wounding one of the attackers, and made his escape.

When I visited Austin Cooper’s old mansion about ten years ago, the owners (no longer Coopers) told me that he had been shot by mistake as he stood up in the trap to take off his coat. But Wayland’s father George had in April 1837 put out a farmer called Thomas Ryan, and Francis himself had evicted a William Ryan for being £15 in arrears on a rent of £45. Cooper too had recently evicted several tenants and, even if Wayland was the intended target, I don’t suppose the assassins much regretted the “mistake” of catching Cooper in the crossfire.

It was during the harsh winter of early 1838, when those evicted were suffering cruelly, that various members of the Ryan family hatched the plot to “meet” Wayland. Other men were involved, including Cornelius Hickey and William Walsh, two local carpenters. During the manhunt which followed the assassination, at least three men were arrested: Hickey, Walsh and another man who died during custody. In the run up to the trial, George Wayland (and perhaps Sam Cooper too) received death threats by post, and shots were fired at his house in an attempt to get him to drop the charges and release the suspects.

The Main Guard, Clonmel’s courthouse

On 17th January 1839 Hickey and Walsh were convicted of the murders by a special jury and they were hanged outside Clonmel Prison twenty days later on Wednesday, February 6th. A plaque today marks the spot where the gallows stood, and commemorates the “many notable patriots” imprisoned there. In 1838, the year of their crime, tithes were abolished and a system of fixed rents introduced.

Some of the information in this article comes from Butterhill and Beyond, a Cooper family history by another Austin Cooper, Richard Austin-Cooper.

Saturday 15 May 2010


The Bayley family, who followed the yellow brick road of the industrial revolution to become prosperous Lancashire mill owners, were of eighteenth century farming stock. They were noted not only for their business acumen (wrote an early twentieth century Stalybridge historian) but also for “their exceptionally fine physique and love of all field sports.”

Racing over hurdles, Brompton
(from The Graphic magazine, 1871)

George Adam Bayley, a cousin and contemporary of my great grandmother’s, inherited the genes of his father William, of whom it was written “in physique he had few equals and no superiors”; of his grandfather Joseph, “a finely built and handsome man, a daring horseman”; and of his great grandfather Joseph, “a fine and powerful man.”

Adam was a keen amateur athlete, a noted swimmer, wrestler, runner and jumper. At a great Athletic Festival held in Manchester, 29th July, 1865, open to all comers, his record was as follows: cleared the bar at 9 feet 9 inches in the pole-jump; covered a distance of 18 feet 5I inches in the long jump; cleared at a stand jump 9 feet 9 inches; won the 220 yards hurdle race easily; and threw the cricket ball a distance of 105 yards. Nobody throws the cricket ball any more (except cricketers of course), but when I was a lad it was one of the central events of the school sports day.

For his wonderful feats that day Adam was awarded a silver medal for pole-jumping, silver medal for long jumping, and gold medal for running and jumping. I’m afraid none of the Bayleys’ athletic prowess has come down to me or any of my siblings. My brother and I are tall and had legs long enough for the high jump to be easy at junior school, but that was as far as we went with sport. 

My father had an arrhythmic heart condition that forced his withdrawal from sports activities at his school, something he always regretted. He turned to academia. His father’s generation were keen alpine climbers, but  by day white collar professonals of one sort or another - lawyers and historians. In general we have been all thinkers rather than doers, whose genes apparently (and ironically) overpowered those of the strapping Bayley lads.

Saturday 8 May 2010


My Bayley family tree is a perfect illustration of Britain’s nineteenth century social journey. The Lancashire family moved from their eighteenth century farming roots in Hooley Hill to the rapidly expanding cotton industry of the Lancashire towns.

(Hooley Hill was a sizeable village which took to the industrial revolution with gusto, becoming a centre for felt hat production – although I haven’t read this anywhere else, it seems a possibility that Hooley gave its name to special occasions at which a hat might be worn, parties for example, or as they became known in Ireland, hooleys! Does anyone know different?)

William Bayley, unplugged

The Bayleys moved to nearby Stalybridge. William Bayley, first cousin of my great great grandmother Ellen Bayley, was two years old when his father built their first mill there in 1804 – Bridge Street Mill. After the death of his father in a horrific mill accident, he and his brothers developed the family business as Wm Bayley and Brothers in what became known as the Bayley Street Mills.

In 1841 an economic depression brought reduced hours to the Lancashire Mills as it did to the rest of Britain. Hard times and discontent drove up popular support for the Chartists, who were agitating for radical electoral reform. Things came to a head in the hot summer of 1842 when wage cuts were threatened. The fury of the workforce made most mill owners reconsider, but William Bayley imposed a sixpence reduction (2.5p) on a weekly wage of ten and ninepence (53.5p), nearly 5%. Anger erupted in protest meetings and a general strike of mill workers.

A plug riot: this one in Preston, August 1842

When William offered to withdraw the cuts a few days later it was too late; the Chartists were fanning the flames and the strike spread. Nationally half a million people withdrew their labour. In Lancashire mobs went from mill to mill stopping the machinery, by force if they had to. In some cases the rioters broke in and sabotaged the works by removing plugs from the boilers, and the actions became known as the Plug Riots.

By the end of September it was all over and most strikers had returned to work at the old rates of pay. Although the Chartists never again attracted such levels of support, the strike is a landmark event in the history of labour rights, and Friedrich Engels specifically referred to Stalybridge in writing “The Condition of The Working Class in England” two years later.

William Bayley’s role in starting it all doesn’t seem to have done him any lasting political damage. The Municipal Borough of Stalybridge received its charter of incorporation on 5 March 1857, and Bayley was elected its first mayor, serving for three years.

Clarence Mill on the Macclesfield Canal,
now Bollington Discovery Centre

The Bayley brothers subsequently fell foul of another economic crisis. War with the US in 1862 resulted in a critical shortage of cotton and mass redundancies across the Lancashire mills. In Stalybridge only five of over 60 factories and workshops were working at full strength; 7000 workers were unemployed, and an exodus in search of other work left 750 houses in the town empty. The Bayleys had committed to a new state of the art factory, Clarence Mill, and lost heavily on its construction. Some reports say the Bayleys never used the building, and they certainly sold it off only a few years later. William, by now over 60, withdrew from the business in 1863 and led a long and comfortable retirement in his mansion Stamford Lodge.

William's life, almost exactly spanning the nineteenth century, mirrors Britain's industrial development. He experienced all the twists of its story: its rise to strength and the threats to its viability. As a prominent mill owner he played in equal measure the part of wicked employer and that of local benefactor, donating money to local churches and to the building in 1854 of Bayley Street bridge, which connected his mills and the town to new roads and a wider world.

Saturday 1 May 2010


I inherited the contents of my 3x great uncle Charles’ writing desk a few years ago. They are an amazing survival – 150-year old bundles of correspondence, sometimes complete exchanges including not only letters received but the draft versions of his replies to them.

One such bundle, an exchange of eight letters between Castle and a Whig called Charles Thompson, deals with his hopes of becoming a Liberal candidate in the 1857 general election. Parliament had been dissolved when the coalition government of the day collapsed in disagreements about the Second Opium War (see my recent post on Sir John Bowring). The Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, a Liberal, had lost a censure debate on 3rd March over his support for Bowring (the governor of Hong Kong) and Parkes (Bowring’s Canton counterpart) and called a snap election for 30th April.

When the Tory motion of censure was carried, Palmerston portrayed it as a vote to “abandon a large community of British subjects at the extreme end of the globe to a set of barbarians - a set of kidnapping, murdering, poisoning barbarians.” (Bowring’s wife had been poisoned by a Chinese baker.) Only six years after the triumphant (and triumphalist) Great Exhibition, popular sentiment was with Palmerston and the Empire.

Charles Castle (1813-1866),
letter writer, Whig activist

Charles, a Bristol man, was a natural Liberal, a Unitarian by religion, and he must have fancied his chances when within a week of the censure his friend Mr Hunt proposed him as a candidate of Liberal principles in the Bridgwater constituency. The Borough returned two MPs and hopes were running high that they could both be Whigs (the predecessors of the Liberal Party) for the first time since the general election of 1835.

But first, there was a Committee to get past, and that Committee had set up a Sub-Committee to draw up a short list … For all his Liberal virtues, Charles was an impatient man. Accustomed to getting his own way, he was irritated by the Committee’s delay in selecting a candidate even by a day, writing “I trust they will be able to justify themselves to the Electors. If invited now, which I confess I do not expect, I should feel bound to approach a contest with some caution.”

Four days later, Castle heard that he was not selected. Worse, Mr Otway, the local man chosen over him, declined to stand after all. With time running out, the Bridgwater Liberals opted for a celebrity candidate, a popular travel writer and historian called Alexander William Kinglake who had unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1852. When in spite of being rejected Castle offered to lend his forceful support, Henderson assured him that there was no need – “if we have fair play we are sure to win, and if our opponents want to have [corrupt] practices, why they must take the consequences. … We are such a majority on the Register that we have no need to imperil our cause.”

Alexander William Kinglake (1809-1891)
historian, travel writer, MP

Bridgwater elected two Whig members in 1857 – Kinglake and Charles Kemeys-Tynte. Kinglake was returned at next two general elections, but the result of the 1868 general election in Bridgwater was voided on petition on 26 February 1869 because of Liberal malpractice. No by-election was held, and after a Royal Commission found that there had been extensive corruption by both Whigs and Tories, the town was disenfranchised in 1870 and incorporated into the West Somerset constituency. It was reinstated in 1885. But 140 years later, boundary changes see it once again subsumed in the single “Bridgwater and West Somerset” ward in time for the 2010 general election.

Perhaps Kinglake was distracted by his other career. His magnum opus was his “Invasion of the Crimea,” in 8 volumes, published from 1863 to 1887, described on Wikipedia as one of the most effective works of its class. It has been accused of being too favourable to Lord Raglan, and unduly hostile to Napoleon III, for whom the author had an extreme aversion. But it was popular enough for the timber town of Kinglake in Victoria, Australia (2006 population 1482), to be named after him a year after the publication of the final volume.

Kinglake, Victoria
Black Saturday, 7th February 2009

I’m not sure why – neither he nor the Crimea seems to have any other connection with the town, the state or the continent. The town in turn lent its name to a huge forest National Park established in 1928. Both town and park were devastated by bushfires on 7th February, Black Saturday, in 2009. 98% of the forest was destroyed and over 100 lives were lost in the town.

For Charles Castle, that last note from Charles Thompson, confirming that not only Mr Otway but also Mr Kinglake and a Mr Follett had been picked ahead of him, marked the end of his active involvement in politics as far as I know. Charles Thompson (1815-1889), a fellow Unitarian whose ancestors had been Quakers, moved to Cardiff later that year with his family and became chairman of Spillers Flour Mills. Cardiff’s Thompson Park was donated to the city by his son (also Charles).

Charles Thompson’s final note to Charles Castle
confirming the choice of Liberal electors for candidates,
28th March 1857
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