Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Bankrupts and Smugglers - George Valentine Leonard

We've looked at George's death. What about a bit about his life? George Valentine Leonard was born in Little Hampton in Worcestershire in about 1798 to John Leonard and Elizabeth Groves. George was one of eight children (five boys and three girls). His father was a landholder and Tory voter1.

George Valentine first substantially appears in the records in 1824 in court proceedings pertaining to his and his late relative's bankruptcy (Thomas Valentine Leonard – I don't yet know if he was a brother or uncle or cousin). At that time, only traders could declare bankruptcy. Everyone else had to be declared insolvent, a state that usually resulted in debtors’ prison (read "Little Dorritt" by Charles Dickens for an account of a debtor's prison. Actually, read it anyway. It's a great book). It was not uncommon to find farmers and others conducting trade in order to qualify for bankruptcy, should the need arise. However, this could be as simple as selling seeds or plants, not a big leap but enough to safeguard themselves.

George, however, was a genuine trader, and listed his occupation as Commercial traveller. He owed in excess of 600 pounds to a creditor, Joshua Payne, who had a warehouse in London. On committing his act of bankruptcy, all George's goods were assigned to a Mr Carlisle. Under law, the goods were now the possession of Mr Carlisle. In the meantime, Joshua Payne got a writ for the debt and had a local officer, William Parr, serve it on George and seize goods to the value of the debt (known as fieri facias or fi. fa.). Two letters were then received by the officer, one from George saying take goods rather than money and then one from Payne's agent, John Williams, saying the debt had been satisfied, so leave the goods alone. The agent and a bailiff, William Restarick, retired to the Three Cup's Inn in Lyme, to decide how to settle fees.

The Three Cups Inn, Lyme Regis. From Save the Three Cups Hotel
Williams paid Restarick all the fees for the Sherrif, minus five pound, which it was agreed would be recovered by seizing some of the parcels and selling them. Goods to the value of five pound were sent to Bridport for Mr Restarick, (Restarick received payment some two months later and sent the parcels on to Joshua Payne). A further thirteen parcels were seized on the day and were sent to Joshua Payne in London. The parcels were intercepted at Carpenter Smith's Wharf, London, by a wharfinger named Richard Wilson. As there was an act of bankruptcy in place, Wilson refused to release the goods to Payne until the matter of their ownership was settled. There they remained.
In June of 1825, Carlisle, the asignee in George Leonard's bankruptcy, was in Poole, where he ran into the Sherrif and his assistant. He demanded the return of the parcels, but this was refused. Carlisle then took the Sherrif to court to recover the value of the goods taken (an action known as trover). He was ultimately successful (the matter being settled in the middle of 1826) and the case became a precedent in law, appearing in full in a number of journals over the years2. The interest had been caused by the matter of whether or not the Sherrif was criminal (found not so) or liable (deemed thus), as he had not known of the act of bankruptcy when directed to serve the writ for recovery of the debt.
A record of the discharge of Bankruptcy has yet to be uncovered by this researcher, but it must have occurred at some time prior to 1841 when George was working as a woollen draper.
The story of the bankruptcy and the events surrounding it do not, however, end there, as Lyme Regis was hardly an innocent little holiday town.
At the time of the bankruptcy, George was based in Lyme, with premises and a warehouse, and employing at least one other person, Farrant, “a shopman of [GVL]3”. Lyme was, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a centre for smuggling. The local council even passed statutes making the job of customs official almost impossible, such as a restriction on searching goods as they were unloaded onto The Cobb (the main dock for the town - go watch "The French Lieutenant's Woman" or read Jane Austen's "Persuasion"). Customs officials could not approach said goods until they were at least half a mile removed from the waterfront. As there were a number of large warehouses right on The Cobb, some of which still survive today, goods could come in and out of the dock without customs ever laying eyes on them.

The Cobb, Lyme Regis. The building on the left is an old warehouse, now the Marine Aquarium. Photo from Lyme Regis Marine Aquarium
Practically everyone in business in the town was involved in or receiving benefit from smuggling4. In the midst of this was George Valentine Leonard. I know he sold tea, one of the main contraband items.
Furthermore, Poole, where George's assignee, Mr Carlisle, met the Dorset Sherrif and his deputy, was a notorious town, feared for the brazen and ferocious behaviour of the smugglers operating from it. What was Carlisle doing there? And how were the Sherrif and deputy safe, when Poole was known for the murder of customs officers and other officials of the law?
During his time in Dorset, George met Ann Allen, from Taunton in Somerset . They were married on 12 Sept 1824 at St Mary Magdelen Church, Taunton. He inherited Thomas Leonard's bankruptcy in October of that year, which must have come as something of a shock to Ann.
While Carlisle was still fighting through the courts, George and Ann moved on. Children were born in Hoxton, Middlesex (Lucy, 1825), Islington East (Frederick, 1827 and Alfred, 1828), Pentonville, Middlesex (George, 1831), Kingsland, Middlesex (Ann, 1832), Bristol, Gloucestershire (Charles, 1836 and Emma, 1837) and finally back in Islington East (Joseph aka John, 1839). It is possible that Alfred and George were one and the same. Their birth details come only from the Census and they never appear on the same Census return together. More research is required.
The 1841 Census lists the household as still residing in Islington, with George’s occupation given as “Wollen draper” (sic)5. A woollen draper was a shopkeeper who sold wools and woollen fabrics. Interestingly, one of Joshua Payne's major import items was wool and woollen cloth from New South Wales, Australia. Was George still using his connection with Payne?
1 Worcestershire, England, UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893, 73, John Leonard; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations Ltd, "UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893 [database on-line]," Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Dec 2012).

2Such as “Cases Argued and Determined in the Courts of the Common Pleas and Exchequer Chamber, and in the House of Lords: from Hilary Term, 1834 to Trinity Term 1834 both Inclusive”, John Bayly Moore Esq and John Scott Esq, of the Inner Temple, Barrister at Law, Vol IV, S Sweet, Chancery Lane Fleet Street, London and R Milliken & Son, Grafton Street, Dublin, 1834

3Ibid p.27

4 See "Smuggler's Britain" for details on smuggling in Lyme Regis and a history of smuggling in Britain.

5 1841 census of England, Middlesex, St Mary's Islington East parish; Ossulstone hundred Finsbury, folio 38, page 9, George Leonard household; digital images, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, AncestryInstitution.com (http://www.ancestryinstitution.com); citing PRO HO 107/664/2. 

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