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Saturday 26 June 2010


My cousin Edward seems to have been sent out to manage the family business in Australia at a time of some crisis in 1846. He died less than two years later at the age of only 22, never having returned home to Bristol, just weeks before his brother John arrived to keep him company.

The little I know of him comes from one long letter he wrote to his uncle, my 3x great uncle Charles Castle, on 18th March 1847. It’s a beautifully written, vivid account of his life in South Australia, full of detailed references to people and places of historical importance in the early years of that nation.

Rev RW Newland (1790-1864)
The Pioneer Pastor

Framed by news of business ventures, the central passage of the letter describes a 100-mile trip on horseback which he made from Adelaide to Encounter Bay, to visit Rev Ridgway William Newland, whom Edward had met on his passage out from Bristol on board the Kingston. Newland, a Congregationalist, was returning from a brief trip back to Blighty, having first emigrated in 1839 in search of religious freedom. Widely known in South Australia as the Pioneer Pastor, Newland was also a local magistrate and a useful contact for a new arrival, especially a fellow Congregationalist such as Edward. Edward’s report of his journey is alive with detail.

“I have visited Encounter Bay, traversing nearly 100 miles on horseback at an expense of 3s/2d, on my way thither passing the fertile district of Maclaren Vale, the rising towns of Noarlunga and Willunga, crossing the Mount Terrible range of mountains, a vast sea of scrub and thirsty swamp and [breaking the journey] at Hungry Swamp. The morass which bears such an unhappy appellation is now adorned by the villa (or villa-nous) residence of an elderly couple of ascetics who derive an ample subsistence by the retailing of Tea and Lamper, the manufacture of besoms from a plant which grows in large quantities in scrubby land, and the cultivation of a small garden, which yields very fine potatoes and which after a long ride are doubly welcome for
‘Who’d go through the scrub
Without any grub?’

Lamprey eels are still eaten along the Minho valley in Portugal,
cooked in a wine and blood sauce
in stove-top casseroles and served with rice

“At 15 miles distance, at a sudden turn in the almost overgrown way, the view of the noble bay burst upon me, the waters of which, generally so troubled, were then still “as an infant asleep”. After fording the mouths of the Hindmarsh and Inman Rivers, two miles of sand were to be passed ere Rozinante and self could reach the residence of the Rev’d R.W. Newland, our quondam fellow passenger of the “Kingston”, to whose paddock the former and whose house the latter were paying a visit when, lo! breath it not in Gath! an awful calamity befell neither the former nor the latter, but alas! his inexpressibles, for being those “rarae aves” white bucks, a ride of 50 miles had rendered them semi-transparent, and the extra exertion required to stimulate the horse during the latter part of the journey completed the catastrophe.

“Fortunately however the mists of night were beginning to shroud the neighbouring hills and by the time of my arrival small objects … were not visible to the naked eye. Having effected a hasty retreat to a private room and as hasty a transformation into younger birds of the same species, … I joined the party with more confidence than at first, and was shortly after occupied in doing my devours (devoirs) on divers slices of ham &c.”

White buckskin inexpressibles, (left) from the 1790s, 
and (right) as worn in the BBC’s production of Sense and Sensibility
(the book was first published in 1811) - small objects not shown

Newland lived on The Bluff, the view from which Edward described so eloquently later in his letter (see my earlier post). I think the “lamper” served by the ascetic couple were lamprey eels. “Inexpressibles”, like “unmentionables”, was a nineteenth century euphemism for trousers, from a time when polite society thought it improper to refer to anything at all below the waist. Poor Edward’s white buckskin riding breeches had become see-through from sweat in the course of his ride, revealing in some detail any small objects contained within them.

Saturday 19 June 2010


When my cousin John Acraman, the father of South Australian Football (see my earlier post), first emigrated to Australia in 1848, it was to join his brother Edward.

Edward had been in Adelaide with their uncle Edward Castle since 1846. Back home in Bristol a tea importing venture, Acraman, Bush, Castle and Co, had failed in 1846, and I wonder whether uncle Castle and nephew Acraman hadn’t been dispatched to the Antipodes to try to restore the family fortunes in some way. Both families were merchant venturers, speculative importers and exporters. Australia offered new opportunities for such men with its mineral wealth and vast runs of land for wool production all ripe for exploitation.

Edward Acraman’s letter to his uncle Charles Castle,
18th February 1847

I have one letter written by Edward Acraman. It's to another uncle, Charles Castle, on 18th February 1847. It’s a beautifully written, vivid account of his life in South Australia, full of detailed references to people, places and ships. Over four large sides he describes business proposals (including the partnership with James Cooke by which his brother John made his early fortune), a journey by horse across the outback (of modern day Greater Adelaide!), and his longing for home.

It is as he paints a picture of the dramatic sweep of the coast of Encounter Bay from his vantage point on The Bluff that his expansive mood suddenly changes.

“[We] walked up to the bluff … and after clambering up to the summit, with cautious steps descended to the opposite side, then stealthily crept holding by the rock along a narrow ledge from which a false step would have precipitated us 60 feet on the breakers below on which the vast waters of the Southern Ocean were bursting a silvery foam in the most serene, stilly weather, and at length reached a singular cave which the force of the sea has evidently worn in the cliff at a very remote period, and the view from which surpasses in grandeur perhaps any scene I have witnessed.

“On the right the coast is intersected by numerous small coves, too varied for description & on the left the scene is still more so, the numerous islands, looking but more dark and sombre by contrast with the lights of the native encampments on the opposite shore, the awful gulf beneath, into which one hasty step would plunge the unwary, the skeletons and bones of whales ranged on the beach, the houses & primitive huts scattered on every side, the immense distance of coast, which ‘neath an Australian sky is far more perceptible than an Englishman can well imagine, and the dark thickly wooded hills which frown around, completing one which though interesting in the extreme, causes a feeling of melancholy which will attract many to the same spot, though at the same time, if often prevailing, it would embitter existence.

The Bluff, Encounter Bay, South Australia

“If this dreary be the place I have attempted to describe with the sunny skies of the south Land to relieve it, how much more so would it be with the climate of England. And yet I never felt the desire to return home stronger than at that Bay, it is when looking on the sea, that I in common with many others, hope again to recross it, but duty has ordained otherwise perhaps for years to come. When that event does take place, if it ever will, it can only be with happier prospects than those which hurried me from my native land.”

He snaps out of his blue mood by returning to the subject of business – he is pleased that a ship, the Appleton, is sailing from Bristol and hopes he can fill it with a good return cargo. It is the Appleton which almost exactly a year later brings his brother John out to join him, surviving the worst Southern Ocean gale in living memory on the way. But John, on landing at Port Adelaide a week after the storm, discovers that his older brother has died twelve weeks earlier, during the Appleton’s passage, aged just 22.

The Success, similar in size to the Appleton,
was also caught in the storm of 31st March 1848.
Blown aground and with half her rudder gone,
she was floated off and eventually became a prison hulk.

I don’t know why. Was it sudden? Or was John rushing out to be with him? But poor Edward, so far from home and family, never did get to recross the dark waters back to Bristol.

A happier memory of him in my next post.

Saturday 12 June 2010


I come from a tightly woven plait of eighteenth and nineteenth century Non-Conformist families. My great great great grandfather Samuel Salter was a deacon of the first Baptist church in Watford before he moved the family into London. There he filled the same office at the Baptist church in Blackfriars Road and became involved in the Baptist Home Missionary Society, which he eventually served as Treasurer.

Like many Non-Conformists, the Baptists believed passionately in education as a way into the mainstream society from which they were largely excluded because of their faith. It was a religious duty to better oneself through learning. But from education too they were excluded, by a system which allowed only members of the Church of England to attend England’s only two universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

London University Share no. 1005

The solution was simple: establish your own university. This they did, and founded the defiantly named London University in 1826. The founders raised the money to build the university through an issue of shares, and I’m proud as anything to record that Samuel Salter bought one!

Admittedly he wasn’t exactly first in line – his share is dated 1828 and numbered 1005 – but it survives to this day in the family archive as a symbol of their commitment to learning. Not only did he buy a share: when the new university opened its doors to students in 1828, the very first intake of students that Michaelmas term included Samuel’s son William Augustus Salter. Salters (and other descendents) have been going to university in every generation since.

London University, 1828
by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

Because London University applied no religious tests to its entrants, it was not at first granted a charter. Moreover a rival institution was established within a year of the university’s opening – King’s College, founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington, was intended like Oxford and Cambridge to admit only Anglican students (although in fact Non-Conformist students could study there and were only barred from sitting exams).

Neither university could confer degrees however, and in order to enable this politically, the two institutions combined under the name the University of London. The original Non-Conformist London University was renamed University College. As UCL it survives to this day, one of nine colleges currently making up the University of London.

For the record, William Augustus Salter studied the following subjects, and his father paid the following fees, during his time at London University:
Matriculation £2
1828-29: Latin £7.10s, Greek £7.10s, Mathematics £7.
1829-30: Latin £7.10s, Greek £7.10s, Hebrew £5.
1830-31: Greek £7.10, Hebrew £5, Logic £5.
William went on to train for the Baptist ministry at Stepney Baptist College (now Regents Park College Oxford) and fought all his life for better education provision for the poor of his several parishes. As a biblical scholar he was also a major contributor to the Annotated Paragraph Bible edited by his brother-in-law Joseph Gurney (see my earlier post).

Samuel retired to Watford. After death he was buried in the Salter Family Vault at the Baptist church in Beechen Grove of which he had been deacon as a younger man. Sad to report, the vault and church were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Harlequin Shopping Centre. But its contents were re-interred with due respect beneath a simple plaque in Watford’s Vicarage Road Cemetery (opposite the football ground of the same name).

The Salter Family Grave, Vicarage Road Cemetery, Watford
(photographed in February 2008)

It reads: “The remains of those buried between 1721 and 1860 in the graveyard of the original Baptist church, Beechen Grove, Watford were reverently reinterred here in October and November 1963. Further remains being those of David Salter and his family were reinterred here on the 18th March 1974.”

Saturday 5 June 2010


Joseph Gurney was my great great great uncle. He followed his father and grandfather in the office of Official Shorthand Writer to the Houses of Parliament, using the Gurney shorthand system invented by his great grandfather Thomas Gurney.

Joseph Gurney (1804-1879),
communicator of government and gospel

The Gurneys were Non-Conformists by faith. Baptists (and other Christian churches not aligned with the Church of England) were emerging in the nineteenth century from the shadows of intolerance and marginalisation, driven by radical religious zeal and a passionate belief in education. Disenfranchised, they had a hunger for god and knowledge which the establishment Church of England had rather lost sight of over the centuries.

Joseph managed to combine his zeal for both heaven and learning through his fifty years of membership of the Religious Tract Society, an organisation founded in 1799 and committed to spreading the Word of God in print, particularly to children, women and the poor.

The Lord’s Prayer for Little Children,
published by the Religious Tract Society, 1870

An active member from the moment he joined in 1829, Gurney became a trustee and in due course the Society’s treasurer. He was a biblical scholar, and when it became clear that the laws on publishing the Bible were not as restrictive as previously imagined, he determined that the Society should publish its own edition.

What seems blindingly obvious and commonplace to us now was Gurney’s inspired innovation. Guided by the Society’s core ethos of making religious text accessible to the masses, he introduced two very simple ideas. Up until then Bibles had been huge, family-sized volumes, solemn and severe with column after column of uninterrupted text. Gurney’s Bible, the Pocket Paragraph Bible, was small enough to fit in your pocket so that you could carry it everywhere with you; and for the first time the text was divided into paragraphs, making it easier to follow and less overwhelming on the page. It appeared in 1846, and was so well received that it became the standard prize for Religious Knowledge given by School Boards throughout the country for decades to come.

Buoyed by the success of the Pocket Paragraph, Joseph Gurney set to work on his next brilliantly simple biblical novelty – explanatory notes, designed to assist further with understanding God's word and will. He enlisted the help of many linguistic and biblical experts, who laboured for ten years in willing anonymity on the new project and like Gurney himself without pay. It was published in sections between 1850 and 1860, when the first complete edition of the Annotated Paragraph Bible appeared.

Paragraphs, notes, and a plan of Solomon’s Temple
Title page of the New Testament, with a handy pull-out map of Palestine

It was a towering academic and spiritual achievement, an instant success which was widely and quickly translated into many languages for the benefit of the hundreds of Non-Conformist missionaries working overseas from Africa to the Far East.

The Annotated Paragraph used the classic King James Version of the Bible which was first published in 1611. Gurney’s next Big Idea was to dispense with explanatory notes and instead update the text itself, with a new translation. With the assistance of eminent Greek and Hebrew scholars of the day, he published the Revised English Bible in 1877, eight years before the Church of England’s officially sanctioned Revised Standard Version.

Joseph Gurney died on 12th August 1879, just two weeks after the death of his brother-in-law and lifelong friend, my great great grandfather William Augustus Salter. Salter was a Baptist minister and brilliant Greek and Hebrew scholar. He had been, so Gurney’s obituary revealed, one of the major contributors to the Annotated Paragraph Bible.

“In a memoir of one [wrote the obituarist] it is impossible not to name the other of these true brothers, who after years of intimate correspondence on the word of God, departed almost hand in hand, death dividing them  for only a few weeks, to continue their study of truth in the all-revealing light of their Saviour’s presence.”

The single-volume edition of
Joseph Gurney’s Annotated Paragraph Bible, 1860

In the year of their death the Religious Tract Society began publication of its long-running magazine of stories and improving articles, The Boys' Own Paper! Salter's son William Henry Gurney Salter succeeded Joseph in the post of Parliamentary Shorthand Writer.
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