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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Peccadillos in India - the life of Thomas Augustus Gidley

The Prag-Mahal in Bhuj, Kutch, India

Thomas Augustus Gidley was born 4th February 1801, probably in Stoke Damerel in Devon, as his father, Othniel Gidley, originally from Buckfastleigh, was a high-ranking Clerk of the Survey at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Plymouth. The family was comfortably off, having land at its disposal. In 1809, for example, when he was only 8 years old, from the terms of his grandfather's will Thomas knew he would one day inherit the rents from an estate called Shepherd's Tenement in Buckfastleigh, after the death of his father. His older brother Othniel was to inherit another of his grandfather's properties. Another brother, Caleb, is described as a "gentleman" at the time of his death in 1839, so presumably lived from his rents, and yet another brother, John Kerswell Gidley, was a "landed proprietor" by the time of the 1851 census, and in all subsequent ones.

The first mention of Thomas' army career is in 1818 when we learn that he and his brother Othniel were sent off to Bombay in India as "cadets for the infantry". Othniel does not seem to have prospered there and died back in England in 1829, but we learn from army reports in newspapers of Thomas's rise through the ranks, becoming a Lieutenant in the 11th Native Infantry in Bombay by 1825, rising from Captain to Major in 1841 and by 1851 he had become a Lieutenant-Colonel of the 15th Native Infantry. But disaster struck in 1854, and, as well as this calamity in India, there was scandal at home.

Thomas married Matilda, surname unknown, place and date unknown, and Matilda's age and place of birth fluctuate in the censuses. They had a daughter Mary Louisa Matilda Gidley, born in about 1831. In 1841 Matilda and her daughter were in Hammersmith, and Thomas was presumably in India. All seemed to be going smoothly when Mary married one of Thomas's brother officers in 1850, but by 1851 Thomas is living in Great Marlborough St, Westminster described as a "lodger, unmarried". I haven't found Matilda at all in 1851, but perhaps she accompanied her daughter to India. By 1861 she is living in Hastings, occupation "lady", and by 1871 she is possibly a "widow, railway dividend, 3 Markham Square, St Luke's, Chelsea." She died in 1875 in the Brighton area. The marriage had obviously failed, as Thomas was still very much alive.
Thomas may well be the "Captain Augustus Frederick Gidley" mentioned in a newspaper report in 1831, when a man of that name appeared in a court case involving some damage, when he had been found in the house in Exeter of a Miss Hammond, a "lady of ill repute".

So Thomas's home circumstances were not perfect, when in 1854 his army career came to an abrupt end. Newspapers of the time reported in full the circumstances leading to his court-martial and being dismissed the army.
"First charge: gross dereliction of duty when commanding officer in Bhooj, Cutch province, 1 January - 1 September 1853, he countenanced intemperance and unbecoming conduct among officers of the regiment under his command, by permitting unchecked and unpunished instances of drunkenness and impropriety degrading to gentlemen and ruinous to discipline". It was alleged that several of his junior officers, including a surgeon and an officer of the day, were drunk whilst attending a Durbar, and in the billiard room, amongst other places.
Second charge: not interfering to prevent the following scenes of indecency and conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman, namely that disgusting language had been used towards Surgeon Elliot, whose person was indecently exposed in the billiard room by certain officers of the regiment".
Thomas was found guilty on most of the counts, and struck off the strength of the army. The junior officers were also to be brought to trial.
No blame seems to have been attached personally to Thomas, except that of laxity in commanding his officers. Certainly Thomas is reported in shipping lists as returning to Bombay in 1857, but by then his life in England had taken a more domestic turn.

By 1861 Thomas is living in Peckham, South London, as an Army Pensioner, with his "daughter-in-law" Maria, about 35 years his junior. His "grandson", Thomas Augustus Gidley born about 1856 (no birth registration found) is living with them. By 1871, at a different address in South London, the younger Thomas is now said to be his son. Thomas and Maria claimed to be married in 1861, when their two older children were christened in Lewisham, but the marriage did not take place until 1863, when Thomas's first wife, Matilda, was still living. Perhaps he had lost all touch with her for seven years by then, and considered himself a free man.
In 1881 Thomas seems to have discovered he was entitled to benefit from three estates: that of his mother, who died in 1840, of his brother Caleb, who died in 1839, and of his sister, Mary Louisa Gidley, who died in 1861. Thomas had all three wills proved that year. He died three years later, in 1884, but his second wife Maria survived until 1921. Their children were called after Thomas' sisters. Their oldest daughter, Maria Louisa Gidley, had almost the same name as her half sister, Mary Louisa Matilda Gidley. Their son, Thomas Augustus Gidley the younger, vanishes after 1871. There is a tantalising reference to a divorce case in Bombay in 1918, when he could possibly be the Augustus Gidley who admitted adultery with the respondent.
Stop press 2012: I've just received the death certificate for Thomas Augustus Gidley (the younger) who died in Lambeth Hospital in 1933, aged 75. A hospital administrator, and not a relative, registered his death, and Thomas's former occupation was not known to him. Thomas had been a resident in St Peter's Home in South Lambeth before he was admitted to hospital.

With apologies to any descendants, was there a family failing? Thomas's youngest brother, John Kerswell Gidley, who never seems to have worked for his living, is found in Exeter Gaol in 1841, having been found guilty of larceny the year before. I've also seen references to Othniel Gidley, I think the father of Thomas and John Kerswell claiming a civil service pension in the early 19th century, who is described as "late 2nd Clerk to the Clerk of the Survey at Plymouth, has asked for superannuation but his superior says he is very negligent, disrespectful and totally incompetent and has, on two occasions, been suspended from office." The Victorian work ethic seems to have passed this particular family by, but by twenty-first century standards the very fact of putting English officers in complete charge of native soldiers in an inhospitable climate where they were lords of all they surveyed, seems to have brought out the worst in many of them.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Two Gidleys to be proud of ...

Hoopern House, Exeter (taken by Wilkinson Grant & Co. Property Agents), formerly home of Bartholomew Charles Gidley (see below).

I chanced across a History of Victorian Exeter in the The National Archives' library at Kew today. Knowing that there were two prominent Gidleys who filled the role of Town Clerk in that period, I checked for them in the index.

The book reference is:
NEWTON Robert. Victorian Exeter 1837 - 1914. Leicester UP, 1968.

Pages 116 - 117 deal with John Gidley, of the Honiton part of the Winkleigh Gidley family.He was born 21 Mar 1795 in Honiton, son of Courtenay Gidley and his wife Margaret nee Gordon, and several of the family were lawyers. John married Elizabeth Caroline Cornish, from a prominent Exeter family, and although they had at least nine children (several died young) and there were grandchildren, I haven't traced any further descendants in the male line. His home was in Bedford Circus.

"In 1865 the death of John Gidley "the learned and venerable clerk to the municipal body of the city" broke another link with the pre-Reform era and the traditions and manners of the eighteenth century. Town clerk of Exeter, judge of the provost's court, clerk to the Land and Assessed Tax Commissioners, recorder for the borough of Bradninch and member of an ancient Devon family, Gidley had been firm, tactful and hard-working, a conscientious pilot for the new council and its often strong-willed members. His tastes were described ... as "eminently archaeological and his learning that of that patristic, half-ecclesiastical, philological cast which benefits such pursuits." He was indeed a representative of the well-educated scholarly, professional men who formed the backbone of innumerable learned societies in the age that was passing. Originally said to be a man of Liberal principles, John Gidley had become a Conservative but he retained the respect of both political parties, guided the council through innumerable lawsuits, found time to maintain an extensive practice, and as a staunch Anglican, was reputed to have written powerful anonymous letters to the press in support of the bishop during the surplice controversy."

Page 204 deals with his son Bartholomew Charles Gidley, who died prematurely aged only 49 in 1888. From the census it seems he was educated at Ottery St Mary School, then Oxford University. Living in Southernhay in 1871, he had purchased Hoopern House, a Regency mansion, by 1881. For some years it was part of the University of Exeter, but has now returned to being a palatial private residence.
"In 1874 Alderman Gidley, an active and influential member of the [Conservative] party, and son of the first town clerk, resigned his position as alderman and was subsequently elected town clerk." He was Mayor of Exeter in 1870 - 1871, a Freeman of the city, and took a great interest in antiquarian matters, contributing articles to the Devon Notes and Queries magazine.
It seems there were dark deeds in the town hall at that time: a dishonest clerk in the Treasurer's department was responsible for a shortfall of £2000, and according to Newton's book, "the Conservatives were determined to retain control of key posts, [but] the personal integrity of Gidley was never in doubt."

The family has an impressive tomb in All Hallows on the Wall churchyard, Exeter, on a corner by the road where it is impossible for passing traffic to miss it.