The Many Trials of Captain Torckler

The above advertisement was running in Liverpool newspapers in May 1869 and publicised the printers’ latest pamphlet:


In the foreword, the anonymous author tells the readers:

This case, which has now occupied for some time a very prominent place before the public, has evolved so many peculiar circumstances calculated to warn the benevolent portion of the community and especially all Ministers of Religion, that it is considered desirable to print in the form of a pamphlet for general circulation, this account of the Trial as copied from the notes of the shorthand writer. The facts of the case speak so strongly for themselves that not one word is being added by way of comment.

For the large body of Freemasons whose powerful and unsectarian influences for good are well known…this pamphlet may be useful in the future arrangements of their Special Committees appointed for the purpose of proving and assisting worthy and distressed brethren.

Under any circumstances, it is considered most desirable that the strange career revealed during the course of this lawsuit, by self-confession, should operate widely as a safeguard for the public and social morality.”

The author then goes to issue a forerunner of the advice still issued today about unsolicited approaches: “be most cautious in giving credentials to possibly unworthy and, in many cases wicked persons, and thus avert the great distress and anxiety of mind, in which at all events, one family has been most unjustifiably involved.”

So who was ‘Torckler’ and what was it all about?

To unravel the ‘extraordinary revelations’, we need to go back many years before the 1869 ‘GREAT MASONIC TRIAL’ and unfold the curious tale of William Young Torckler, military veteran and self-titled ‘Teacher of Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, French, Latin, Greek, Fortification, Algebra, Mathematics, and English Literature in General’……….


‘….. be exemplary in the discharge of your civil duties by never proposing or at all countenancing any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society….’ (The Ancient Charge)

It was a hot, wet, steamy and oppressive night in Sultanpur, in the dominions of the King of Oudh, on the 9th of August, 1829.  The climate in this part of India (now the state of Uttar Pradesh) was rarely ideal for an Englishman and the middle of the rainy season could be particularly unpleasant. The large garrison station was perched high on the side of the steep valley above the river Gomti and the force of the torrential rain bouncing down on one’s head was particularly disagreeable, so Lieutenant Phillip Goldney, of the East India Company’s 4th Regiment Bengal Native Infantry was very grateful to be able to relax in the relative comfort of his bungalow.

He was comfortably settled with a glass of wine, attended by his servants, looking forward to spending a restful Sunday evening with his books before starting his spell on duty the following day. But the peace was suddenly and rudely shattered when a young man burst into the bungalow armed with two loaded double-barrelled pistols, angrily demanding that Goldney should immediately sign a piece of paper he was waving in the air.

Shocked and enraged, Goldney yelled at him to get out of his house and shouted for his servants to throw him out. A violent struggle followed in which Goldney drew a revolver and pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire. The intruder then fired shots at Goldney– all of which missed – and then hurriedly made his escape and took cover where he was quickly found and taken into custody. The intruder was Lieutenant William Young Torckler and this sorry few minutes of mayhem was to define much of the rest of Torckler’s life.

Born in 1804 in Calcutta, William was the son of Peter Adolphe Torckler and his second wife, Eleanor. In the late 18th century, Peter, who is believed to have been an émigré from Riga in Latvia, was a clockmaker working in Red Lion Street, Clerkenwell, London, and was admitted into the Jerusalem Lodge (now No 197) at the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell on January 1st, 1780. No initiation date is shown in the Lodge register, so Peter may have been a joining member from another unknown Lodge.

Ironically, given the desperate shortage of money that Peter’s son, William, seemed to suffer throughout his adult life, a magnificent automaton clock featuring a bejewelled model of an elephant, which was made in London by Peter in around 1780 and was once owned by the Shah of Persia, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for £1.4m! Another of Peter Torckler’s superb automaton clocks, incorporating twisted glass rods to simulate a waterfall, is currently housed in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

A clock by Freemason, Peter Adolphe Torckler, sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for £1.4m

Peter wed his first wife, Mary Cramillion, in Holborn, London, in 1772 and, in around 1795, they moved to Calcutta with their son, Edward where Peter became a partner in the mercantile firm of Howell and Torckler dealing in imports and exports with the Far East. Mary died early in 1799 and, at the age of 52, Peter married his second wife, 30 year-old Eleanor Isacke, in Calcutta in January of the following year. This marriage produced seven more children, three girls and four boys, of which William Young Torckler was the third child.

William was educated in England and at the age of 17 in 1821, he was commissioned into the East India Company’s forces.  The Company, originally formed by Royal Charter on December 31st, 1600 under the name the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, was initially the venture of London businessmen importing spices from South Asia. Over the next century, trade was expanded to include cotton, silk, indigo and saltpetre and was also extended to other parts of Asia. However, the Company found its existence threatened by the actions of foreign Governments seeking a slice of the action and, to counter the threat, set up its own military forces – thereby becoming almost an imperial power in its own right. The British Government began to influence the affairs of the Company towards the end of the eighteenth century, but did not take full control until native troops in the Company’s army mutinied in 1857 – many years after the end of William’s military service.

After surviving a shipwreck on the voyage out to India in February 1821, William served in several different regiments of the Company’s army and, by 1828, he had progressed from Ensign to the rank of Lieutenant in the Company’s 4th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry stationed in Sultanpur. However, although events related later in this story demonstrate that he could ‘turn on the charm’ when it suited him, he was not popular with his brother officers and seems to have been rather pompous, arrogant and hot-tempered. Coupled with a tendency to occasionally become violent, these characteristics didn’t endear him to his colleagues.

Greater ill-feeling started brewing when he was appointed as Quarter Master and Interpreter for the regiment ahead of other officers who believed themselves to be better qualified than William. As the months passed, arguments broke out – matters went from bad to worse and finally boiled over when accusations of improper conduct were made against William.

Angry insults were traded and William issued a challenge to a duel to his principal accuser, Lieutenant Phillip Goldney. The commanding officer tried to cool the situation by arranging for William to be posted elsewhere, but, believing he would be joining his new regiment in unfavourable circumstances unless his character was cleared of the slurs cast upon it, William did not let matters rest there. He drew up a written statement retracting the allegations and took it to Goldney’s quarters to demand that it be signed – leading to the events set out at the start of Part One of this tale.

Full details of the accusations against William are lost in the fog of history, but it is known that Goldney had heard and spread rumours that William was ‘in the habit of wearing a native dress and was connected with some fellows in the neighbourhood’. Hardly a damning indictment today, but, in the East India Company’s forces back in 1829, fraternisation with the natives, except by very senior officers for diplomatic purposes, was soundly discouraged and could result in disciplinary action.

After a few weeks in a military jail, on November 19th 1829, William found himself on trial before a court-martial held in Cawnpore on a charge of ‘unlawfully, maliciously and feloniously firing a loaded pistol, or two loaded pistols, at Lieut. Phillip Goldney with intent to murder’. At the trial, Lieutenant William Palmer officiated as Deputy Judge Advocate-General and Captain Robert Adair McNaghton appeared for the defence. According to Torckler, there was bitter hatred and rivalry between Palmer and McNaghton which was abundantly displayed throughout the proceedings.

Torckler was, of course, no shrinking violet and was subsequently admonished for the ‘harsh and scurrilous strain in which the prisoner indulged in his defence……..the employment of such terms of scurrility, as being disgraceful to the profession of arms, and which only recoil on the heads of those who, losing sight of their own dignity and that of the profession, make use of them’. The proceedings seem to have been a tremendously bad-tempered affair all round!

According to Torckler, the prosecutor, Palmer, had been officially censured shortly before the trial and had been warned that his continuance in office depended on him showing greater competency. Apparently, in several previous cases, Palmer had been defeated by McNaghton’s skill as a defender – which is why there was no love lost between them.  As a result, Palmer was determined that Torckler would be found guilty and, to ensure this, he allegedly conducted a secret vote where each member of the court-martial wrote his verdict on a slip of paper. The slips were then handed to Palmer, who pronounced a guilty verdict without showing or announcing the content of each slip to anyone else. Torckler was then sentenced ‘to be hanged by the neck until he be dead at such time and place as his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief may be pleased to direct’. This was the first time a court-martial had pronounced a death sentence in India since 1815.

Fortunately for Torckler, the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Dalhousie, although approving the guilty verdict and soundly berating Torckler for his behaviour with his brother officers and for his ‘scurrilous conduct’ and the acrimonious proceedings at the court-martial, decided to remit the sentence. He recommended, instead, that Torckler should be suspended and dismissed from the service. The suspension took immediate effect, but the dismissal took some time, and he was eventually officially dismissed in 1831 and was granted an annual pension of £70.

Torckler claimed that he then joined the Royal British Grenadiers – later the Royal Oporto Grenadiers – and served on the side of Donna Maria in the campaign to liberate Portugal during the usurpation of Don Miguel. In his book ‘Sketches in Portugal during the Civil War of 1834’, Sir James Edward Alexander describes the regiment as ‘being much in want of new clothing, having old blue jackets with red facings’ and goes on to say there were ‘some most determined villains in the shape of officers who joined the Liberating army from England – swindlers, liars, drunkards and duellists’! Although it was promised that the British soldiers would ‘get land, or £40 in money, at the end of the war’, the promise was not kept.

However, William can only have served in Portugal for a matter of a few weeks as he was back in England by 1832 – two years before the war ended – where he wed his first wife, Frances, in Shoreditch in London in May of that year. He claimed to have held the rank of Captain in the Grenadiers, but doubt was publicly cast on this claim in the 1869 “Great Masonic Trial” when he was said to have been ‘little more than a cadet’. On the ‘calling cards’ he was using at the time of this court action, he announced himself as ‘Captain Torckler, late of Her Majesty’s Indian Army’. This is despite the facts that the ‘Indian Army’ in which he’d served did not become ‘Her Majesty’s’ until 25 years after he’d been dismissed from it, and neither did he ever hold the rank of Captain in that army!

After his reprieve from the sentence of death, you may well think that William would thankfully have counted his blessings along with his his pension. £70 per year was a sum not to be sneezed at – it was more than double the annual earnings of agricultural labourers who comprised almost a quarter of the population at that time and was also higher than the average wage of skilled workers in many trades including building, shipbuilding and mining. He could have settled down and got on with his life with his new wife, considering himself lucky to be alive with a guaranteed income for life – but it was not to be.

Virtually his first act as a civilian was to try and pressure Lord Dalhousie to institute a public enquiry into the conduct of the court-martial by Palmer and grant a pardon. This was refused as the C-in-C had already remitted the sentence and saw no point in conducting an enquiry. Palmer had also been removed from his staff position – albeit for alleged embezzlement from the mess funds, of which he was treasurer, rather than for his conduct as a prosecutor. But Dalhousie did tell Torckler that he would refer his case to the King for his consideration on the question of a pardon.

Since the date of his suspension, William had written letters in which he bemoaned his treatment and wrote a long ‘memorial’ of around 50 pages to the Directors of the East India Company in which he unsuccessfully petitioned for restoration to his regiment and his rank along with back-pay and compensation. Although he had clearly committed the violent act with which he was charged and had only been lightly punished, he seemed to believe that Goldney, his accuser, along with Palmer, the deputy judge advocate, were wholly responsible for his unwarranted dismissal.

Goldney subsequently rose through the ranks to Lieutenant-Colonel and, in 1857, was the commissioner of the Eastern Division of Fyzabad when he was murdered by mutineering native troops. Torckler’s comment on the murder was that it was ‘divine vengeance’ – his bitter feelings towards Goldney obviously hadn’t diminished much over the 28 years since their altercation.

In the printed pamphlets and letters Torckler produced in his long campaign against his conviction, many of which ask for financial donations to help him restore his reputation and obtain compensation, William bitterly complains about his treatment, blames everyone else involved for his plight, and moans that no-one has made any serious attempt to help him. Had justice not been denied to him, he immodestly claims, he ‘would have attained the rank of Major-general or, at least, of full Colonel’.

As evidence of the unfair treatment he alleges he received, he cites cases of other members of the Company’s forces who had been court-martialled and (in his opinion) had not been as heavily punished as he was. Amongst these was the case of a Major Bartleman, of the 44th Native Infantry, who had been found ‘guilty of conduct unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, in having at Barrackpore, in pursuance of an endeavour to seduce the affections of Mrs. Shelton, wife of Lieutenant Shelton, 38th Light Infantry, written to her on or about the 22nd of August, 1850, a highly unbecoming note’.

Mrs Ellen Clarissa Shelton was Torckler’s niece, the daughter of his sister, Eleanor Elizabeth and her husband Richard Laughton. This may have coloured his view of the incident, but his opinion that Bartleman’s offence of attempted seduction by writing a note was as serious as Torckler’s own offence of attempted murder by firing pistols at Goldney, does illustrate Torckler’s somewhat warped sense of judgement in relation to his own conduct!

In his pamphlets, William was also not averse to ‘name dropping’ – for example, he lets his audience know that the sister-in-law of his defender at the court martial, Captain McNaghten, was ‘Miss Emma Roberts, the distinguished authoress’. He also provides a series of testimonials, mainly from people who had died long before publication, which gushingly praise his character and skills.  Readers of this book may judge for themselves as a pamphlet in which many testimonials appear is freely available on-line, but it appears that several of the them display the same verbose writing style as Torckler himself and mention his conduct ‘towards his widowed mother and orphan sister’ in glowing terms.

In the 1869 “Great Masonic Trial”, it was revealed that a testimonial from a Major-General Burrell, which Torckler was using in his fund-raising efforts, was acquired, along with cash, by what amounts to blackmail – the Major-General was having an extra-marital affair and Torckler was being paid to conceal this from Burrell’s wife!

Amongst his litany of issues, Torckler writes of himself, in the third person, in block capitals, ‘HE HAS PECULIAR CLAIMS UPON THE SYMPATHIES OF HIS MASONIC BRETHREN’ and hopes they will ‘BE FAITHFUL TO THEIR ANCIENT ORDER AND DO THEIR DUTY WITH FRATERNAL LIBERALITY’. He then adds a footnote, again writing about himself in the third person –‘his appeals to the Masonic fraternity and his former brother officers have alike been productive of little or no advantage to him; the latter, for the most part, pleading poverty, and the former, that it is not a Masonic question’.

There is no record of the lodge membership of a ‘William Young Torckler’ in the available registers of the United Grand Lodge of England but it seems he may have been a member of a Scottish lodge. The following letter appeared in the Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror of October 1868 – probably from a Mason who had been approached by William for cash: “Can any of your readers or correspondents inform me, through your columns or otherwise, if they know the present address of a ‘Captain Torckler’. Can they also inform me if he is a Freemason, and if so, in what lodge was he initiated, and when, and of what lodge he is now a member?—P. Z.

The following reply appeared in November: “Dear Sir and Brother, – In reply to the inquiry of your correspondent, P. Z., “Captain Torckler is at present residing at Tranmere, Birkenhead. The No. of his lodge is No. 25 (S. C.) He is not a member of any lodge here. He has obtained relief from the lodges both in Liverpool and Birkenhead. Yours fraternally, P. G. S. (Note: Lodge No 25 in the Scottish Constitution is Lodge St Andrew of St Andrews)

William himself testified under oath in the 1869 “Great Masonic Trial” that he had become a Freemason in 1853 and admitted that he had sought financial assistance from various lodges and individual members on various occasions since then.

Freemasonry also ran in the family – his father, Peter Torckler, joined The Jerusalem Lodge in London in 1780 and his brother, Peter Arnold Torckler, was initiated in 1824 in the Lodge of Courage and Humanity No 823, in Dum Dum, Bengal. William’s sons Frederick and Theodore were also Freemasons for a time – Frederick in Tuscan No 1027 in Shanghai, China, and Theodore in Onslow Lodge No 2234 in Guildford.

After the failure of his attempts to obtain redress from the East India Company, William started a legal action in the Court of the Kings Bench in London during 1834. In the action, he sought £5,000 compensation (today’s value is about £450,000) from Colonel Michael Childers, the President of the court-martial, alleging that he ‘unlawfully and negligently and in violation of his duty did suffer and permit a verdict of guilty ….without first taking the votes of the members of the court-martial’. However, shortly before the case was due to be heard, William withdrew the action, saying later that that he could not afford the legal costs

This was the first time, but not the last, that William would start a legal action for damages only to abandon it at the last minute – and, as will be seen later in this tale, he allegedly failed to pay any legal costs incurred by either himself, or by those he unsuccessfully sued.


‘…… let me recommend the practice of every domestic as well as public virtue…..’  (The Ancient Charge)

After William married in 1832, his first son, Robert, who was born five months after the wedding, was quickly followed by Frederick and Harriotte – they were both baptised at the same time in 1834 and may have been twins. By this time, the family had moved from London to Carmarthen in Wales and William had started offering his services as a tutor. He alternated between using the ranks of Captain and Lieutenant when referring to himself and one of his business cards at the time billed him as follows:

In the first few years of the marriage, life seemed to settle down for a while. The family moved from Wales to Bristol and set up a small school in The Mall at Clifton which they advertised as an ‘Establishment for Young Gentlemen’, with William tutoring in his specialities. Four more children were born, one of whom died in infancy in 1839, and, in between nursing the children, Frances, helped out in their establishment by giving lessons in French.

But William’s hot temper soon re-emerged and the couple separated in the summer of 1841. William was living in Bath with two of the children and Frances was living in Bristol when, in November 1841, William was brought to the Police court in Bath on a charge of assaulting Frances. The press report says ‘the agitation she exhibited when called upon to give her deposition interrupted the proceedings for a full quarter of an hour’. She had been visiting the two children who lived with William, when he attempted to detain her, locked her in a room, beat and gagged her and ‘used her very ill’.  On a previous occasion, she told the court, he had threatened to stab her ‘in a fit of jealousy and passion’. Frances had no witnesses, but William produced one who offered the opinion that William had only acted as ‘a husband is justified in doing towards his wife under such circumstances’!

William was called upon to enter into recognizances to keep the peace in the sum of £10 from himself and, oddly, £20 each from two strangers to him ‘who generously came forward and volunteered to bail him’ – a result of an example of the charming nature that William could sometimes display when it was to his advantage? The sureties being accepted, William was discharged.

A year later, a warrant was issued charging William with abandoning Frances and his children and leaving them ‘chargeable to the parish of Clifton’ which had expended £100 on keeping the children in the parish workhouse. One child died whilst in the workhouse and the others were there for almost a year before they were taken out by Frances who was then being financially supported by her brother ‘who had married a rich lady’.

William evaded having to answer the charge of abandonment for three years by moving around and living for a time in France. Fake announcements of his death in Paris – purportedly in October 1843 – also appeared in London newspapers (presumably placed by William himself!), but, in 1845, he was brought to the Bristol Police Court where the prosecutor told the Magistrates that he would bring evidence to show that ‘the party before them was a disorderly person, a rogue and a vagabond’ for abandoning his family.

William’s response, through his lawyer, was that Frances had committed adultery and incest with her brother, James Kerr Jordan, which was the cause of William leaving her, and that an action for ‘Criminal Conversation’ was pending.

Criminal Conversation’ was an action for financial compensation which could be brought by a husband in the event of infidelity by his wife. To succeed in such an action, the actual act of infidelity had to be witnessed by a third party. Prince Henry, the Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn and brother of George lll, who was the first member of the Royal Family to become Grand Master of the Moderns Grand Lodge in 1782, once found himself on the wrong end of such an action which cost him £13,000 (worth about £1.5m today) for a youthful dalliance on a couch with politician’s wife, Lady Henrietta Grosvenor!

At the Bristol Police Court, it was further alleged by William’s lawyer that the charges had been brought at the instigation and expense of Frances’s brother in an attempt to use the court ‘as an instrument of injustice and oppression against a man who was complaining of his wife’. In addition to the action for ‘Criminal Conversation’, there were also divorce proceedings pending in which both parties were alleging adultery by the other and the magistrates should not ‘allow themselves to be made weapons in the hands of a third party to punish Mr Torckler, for it was evident that this was not a bona fide proceeding on the part of the parish’.

William deployed his charm once again when giving his evidence and, coupled with evidence to show that Jordan had indeed helped his sister and the parish to pursue the prosecution against William, this was enough to persuade the magistrates to dismiss the charge. They also dismissed a further charge that William ‘had rushed into Jordan’s house and seized some papers’ when William said that he’d only wanted to see his wife, who was in the house, and promised not to do it again

William’s action for ‘Criminal Conversation’ against his brother-in-law was another case which he withdrew at the last minute leaving costs unpaid. He alleged later that he was unable to proceed because his children had been taken to France by Jordan to prevent them giving evidence. Given that the oldest child would only have been about nine years old at the time of the alleged adultery and incest, it seems unlikely that any statements they were persuaded to make several years after the events would have been given much credence by a court.

However, in February 1846, the brothers-in-law were again in court in a case of libel brought against Torckler by Jordan in connection with ‘statements made in a circular’. The newspapers did not report what was said in the ‘circular’, but it’s probable that William had published the claim he’d made in court the previous year – that his wife had committed adultery and incest with Jordan, her brother. In this case, William again backed out at the last minute by admitting, through his solicitor, that ‘the imputations contained in the libel against the character of the Plaintiff (Jordan) were utterly destitute of any foundation in fact’. The Lord Chief Justice ordered that, after this complete disclaimer by the defendant, Jordan could do little better than take a ‘verdict by consent’ with 40 shillings damages and costs and the case was ended. Needless to say, William did not pay the 40 shillings or any of the legal costs, including those of his own lawyers.

In 1841, after his separation from Frances, William had mortgaged his £70 per year pension to the London, British and Foreign Insurance Company in return for a payment of £700. He spent some time in France and in several different parts of England, Wales and Scotland and had soon used up his capital.  He rarely had any income from paid employment and incurred more large debts – some whilst using the name of Young rather than Torckler – and in his next appearance in a court in June 1846, just four months after backing down in Jordan’s libel action, he was declared bankrupt on his own petition and subsequently served seven months in the Queen’s Prison for debtors in Southwark, London.

His schedule of debts amounted to £2,477 (today’s value is around £235,000), of which £800 had been incurred in India 20 years earlier. His Indian debts were for outstanding loans of £600, a bill for wine of £150, and a clothing bill for £50. His English debts, incurred from over twenty-five different addresses in England and France, included his unpaid legal bills, accounts for board and lodging at twelve of his addresses, accounts for various goods from eleven different businesses, bills for schooling his children and several outstanding loans.   It is surprising that he spent only seven months in the debtors’ prison as it was revealed in the “Great Masonic Trial” that none of his creditors ever received a payment.

William’s next engagement with the courts was in the following year in 1847 when Frances’s divorce case against him was finally concluded. Typically, he didn’t turn up at the first hearing in May. The divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery was granted, and William was held to be in contempt of court in his absence. In the following month, he appeared to appeal the contempt action and successfully proffered the excuse that he had been in prison for debt and was residing in Boulogne at the time of the earlier hearing. His charm again surfaced and his appeal was granted, but the divorce stood and was confirmed by the court. William and Frances were finally free of each other.

Note. Although William and Frances were now divorced, the case was in a church court and took place before the 1857 Divorce Act. It was, therefore, a ‘divorce from bed and board’ (a mensa et thoro, literally from table and hearth) which separated the parties but did not allow either to re-marry during the lifetime of the other. It could be granted on grounds of life-threatening cruelty, or of adultery by the husband or the wife.

A year or so went by, during which William kept up his acquaintance with the courts by suing a Mr Willey for breach of contract and then abandoning the case at the last minute, leaving the legal costs unpaid. He also did the same in a similar case against a Mr Watson. These gentlemen had allegedly agreed to engage his services as a tutor, but the work never materialised. In a later similar action against a Mr Landy, when William sued for the sum of seven guineas, the action was heard, but William failed to provide sufficient evidence to convince the court of the merit of his case. And in yet another action for breach of contract against a schoolmaster in Dublin, the case never reached trial as the Irishman tragically committed suicide by poisoning himself.

In 1849, William was advertising his services as a tutor at premises in St Georges Parade in Cheltenham and seems to have been deploying his charm with the ladies of the town. By the end of the year, when he was aged 45, he had set his sights on 15-year-old Susan White, whose father, William White, was in business as a shoemaker in Bath Terrace in Cheltenham. In the “Great Masonic Trial”, it was alleged that he abducted her from her parents – ‘this man, who had seen the roughs of life, who had seen enough to calm down the passions of nature, and knew that there was something that the World did not tolerate and which all shrunk from being a party to – what did he do? He went to Cheltenham and seduced a girl who was 15 years old. He took her away, although he had a wife and children living, and she lived with him as his mistress for 6 years…and then he married her’.

He was also accused of bigamously marrying Susan – or Susannah as she was then calling herself – because the 1847 divorce from Frances in a church court did not allow either party to re-marry during the lifetime of the other. He responded that he thought his first wife, Frances, had died before he re-married.

At the time of the 1851 census, William and Susan were living together in London at Cantler’s Place, St Pancras. Recorded as being married to each other, his age was given as 36 (he was actually 46) and her age was entered as 24 (she had just turned 17). The enumerator who collected the census information has added the note ‘the entries were obtained from the landlady of the house as W Y Torckler refused to fill up his schedule or to give any information whatever’. The enumerator must have been very annoyed and appears to have vented his wrath by faintly writing the word ‘FOOL’ next to William’s name on the census form where we can still see it today!

A Torckler child, named after his father, was born in Lambeth in 1854, but his death was recorded in the same month.  Two years later, in 1856, William did indeed marry ‘Susannah’ in Wandsworth in London. Just to be sure, they married again (she was ‘Susan’ this time) in 1871 in St. Mathias, Earl’s Court, London. Perhaps he was just being romantic!

In 1859, William was once again in the Bankruptcy courts as a result of unpaid debts incurred from 11 different addresses in Middlesex, and he was committed to Whitecross Street Debtor’s Prison in London. Whilst there, he was involved in an altercation with other prisoners he accused of ‘behaving disrespectfully’ and complained to the authorities that his hat had been purposely damaged. He was detained in the prison for around eight months before his release, but never contributed anything towards payment of the debts.

In 1854, Frances had emigrated to Australia with her daughter, Harriotte, and she died in Queensland in 1875. In the public notice press announcement of the marriage of Harriotte in Australia, it was claimed that she was the granddaughter of the Hon. Jacob Jordan, Paymaster General of the British Forces and speaker to the Upper House of Assenmbly in Canada inferring that Torckler’s wife, Frances Eleanor Jordan, was the Hon. Jacob’s daughter. This was not so – Jacob died some 20 years before Frances was born and her father was actually a man named John Jordan, who might have been a descendant of the Hon Jacob.

Information as to how Frances got by during the few years between her  divorce and her emigration is scarce, but in an item from August 1853 in the Morning Post, she is reported as having appeared at the Lambeth Court on a charge of ‘unlawfully obtaining possession of and detaining two children’ belonging to a Mr and Mrs Hakewell. In court, she described herself as ‘the widow of an officer in the army’ and refused to give her address. It seems she had unwittingly become involved in a marital dispute between the Hakewells and was caring for the children at Mrs Hakewell’s request, so the charge was withdrawn. The press report says that she was ‘recognised by Horsford, the mendicity officer, as a practised begging-letter writer’.


.….be especially careful to maintain in their fullest splendour those truly Masonic ornaments ……. Benevolence and Charity….. (The Ancient Charge)

William himself was a prolific writer of begging letters, so Frances probably got the idea from him when she saw that they sometimes produced results. As you’d expect, William traded on his ‘fight for justice’ with the Government and the East India Company. In the “Great Masonic Trial”,  he was alleged to have boasted to one of his landlords, a Mr Joseph Hughes, that the unfairness of his court-martial and being sentenced to hang, was the best thing that ever happened to him because it earned him a great deal of money over the years.  An acquaintance reportedly also said that Torckler spent every morning writing his letters which he then sent out with his pamphlets and testimonials to support his requests for money.

He was not averse to issuing thinly veiled threats if his appeals fell on deaf ears and his charm failed him. He is occasionally mentioned in press reports of the committee meetings of churches as far north as Scotland which had received approaches from him. At one such meeting, the Rev Gerald Blunt, Rector of Chelsea, read out letters which he had received from William, parts of which said: ‘… the observations contained in a note at the foot of the enclosed paper have an injurious tendency affecting your public character, I do not deem it right to put it into circulation without your knowledge or without giving you an opportunity to deny or explain what is therein alleged. You may not deem the matter worthy of your notice; in that case, and in the event of my not hearing from you satisfactorily on the subject before Monday next, I shall consider myself at liberty to publish it…..’.

What had the good Rev Blunt done to deserve this? He had failed to give alms to ‘an idiotic boy’ who had approached when he was out walking with a colleague who gave the boy sixpence.

The ‘enclosed paper’ that William threatened to publish was a printed circular containing a long diatribe written in Torckler’s typical verbose style. The content of the  ‘note at the foot’ was not reported, but probably identified the Rector. The opening paragraph of the circular gives an idea of its tone: ‘When an appeal such as this meets with little or no responsive echo in the breasts of the Ministers of the Gospel; the district visitors of the parish; or others whom it chiefly concerns; when Priests and Levites coldly and unfeelingly ‘look on it and pass by on the other side’ like those in the parable of the man who fell among thieves, each excusing himself by saying ‘it is no business of mine, it is out of my district’; when, with no better excuse, one Minister grudgingly contributes sixpence and the Rector of the Parish, nothing, out of the abundance with which God has blessed them……’ – there is great deal more of this kind of content and the circular then ends with- ‘…… a day of reckoning will surely and swiftly come.’

Unsurprisingly, the Rector also received a separate letter telling him that if he sent a ‘contribution’ to Torckler, he ‘need think no more’ on the subject and there would be no need to publish the circular to a wider audience.

The Rector explained to the meeting that he had some 50 such approaches for alms every day and, as he was outside his parish where he had 20,000 other poor persons to attend to, he was unable to give money to persons in other districts. Those present advised him to ignore it, telling him that Torckler had ‘been before the Guardians’ on a previous occasion and a Dr Scatliff was known to have had similar difficulties with him. Maybe Torckler had slipped ‘the idiotic boy’ a penny and told him to approach the Rector!

William had also boasted to his landlord, Joseph Hughes, about another ‘poor clergyman in St John’s Wood’ who had ‘a secret’ of which William had become aware and from whom he had extracted ‘a great deal of money’. It must have been a tremendous shock for William when he arrived at the Court for ‘The Great Masonic Trial of Torckler v. Tattersall’, to discover that his landlord, Joseph Hughes, to whom he had unashamedly boasted about some of his lucrative misdeeds, was working as an investigator for Mr Bretherton, the barrister acting in the Rev Tattersall’s defence!

When questioned about the clergyman of St. John’s Wood during ‘The Great Masonic Trial’, Torckler said ‘he was not so much to be pitied, for he was a poor wretch’. But being a ‘poor wretch’ was no protection from William’s machinations – if there was cash to be had, William would take it no matter how poor his victim was. The trial also revealed that he had written letters containing threats to a person with whom he had lodged in Tranmere and had insulted a Rev. Spungeon when the Rev. had refused to give him money.

According to his own testimony, William became a Freemason in 1853 and it was around this time that, in addition to his other victims, he started targeting Lodges and individual Freemasons in places such as Leamington, Cheltenham, Manchester, Dublin and London with approaches for contributions to his coffers. In the manner of many sharp operators, to succeed with his manipulations he must initially have radiated a certain charm – the same kind of charm, perhaps, that enabled him to coax a teenage girl who was 30 years his junior to become his mistress. But if his designs were thwarted, he was equally adept at intimidation.


…..let Prudence direct you. Temperance chasten you and Justice be the guide of all your actions….
. (The Ancient Charge)

So what had the Rev. Tattersall, Vicar of Oxton and Chaplain of the Mersey Masonic Lodge in Birkenhead, done to incur Torkler’s wrath and give rise to ‘The Great Masonic Trial’?

It all started when the Vicar was approached at his home for a donation by Torckler, who had been petititioning for cash from Lodges and members in Liverpool and was now trying his luck in Birkenhead. He said that other members of the Mersey Lodge including a Bro Ward and a Bro Craig, had given him a sovereign each and a Reverend Knox had given him ten shillings. He called again the following day when the Vicar told him that he would also give a sovereign, but he would first need to make enquiries to ensure Torckler was a worthy recipient. On Torckler’s third visit, the Vicar had not yet made his enquiries, but told his wife to give Torckler ten shillings.

On the following day, the Vicar found out that the brethren named had not given donations to Torckler and also received an ‘impertinent note‘ from Torckler complaining that he’d been given only ten shillings after being promised a guinea and quoting a biblical sounding phrase (which isn’t from the bible!): ‘Promise to thy neighbour and deceive him not, even though it be to thine own hurt’.

A couple of days later, Torckler and the Reverend Tattersall encountered each other walking on opposite sides of the street in Toxton. Torckler gestured and raised his hat and Tattersall called out along the lines of “I have received that impertinent note of yours. Do not come to my house again. You are a vagabond and an imposter”. Torckler then crossed the street and angrily responded with “you are a liar. Lies, lies, lies“. Things degenerated from there when the Vicar accused Torckler of obtaining money under false pretences and the bad-tempered confrontation then moved off the street into the nearby Queens Arms Hotel.

Inside the hotel, Torckler completely lost his temper. He allegedly called the barmaid, Mrs Andrews, a ‘strumpet’ and a ‘vixen’ and accused her of being the Vicar’s ‘fancy woman’. Much shouting and fist-waving went on and Mrs Andrews grabbed hold of Torckler’s beard. Then a policeman turned up – Torckler was restrained and a window was broken in the struggle. When the Vicar repeated his accusations that Torckler was a vagabond and imposter and had obtained ten shillings from him under false pretences, William was taken into custody and locked-up overnight.

The following day, a Friday, he was brought before a magistrate where he said he would apologise to the Vicar if he agreed not to press charges. However, Police Superintendent Hammond asked that Torckler be remanded as he had papers on him that indicated he could be a regular begging imposter. The magistrate agreed and Torckler was returned to the cells until the Monday morning when, enquiries having been completed, no charges were laid and he was released from custody.

When Torckler was released, he agreed to leave the area. So it must have come as a tremendous shock to the Rev Tattersall when Torckler once again resorted to the courts seeking £5,000 compensation (today’s value is almost half a million pounds) for ‘giving him into custody on a false charge of misdemeanour; maliciously giving him into custody on a false charge of obtaining money under false pretences ….. and falsely and maliciously saying to him “you are a vagabond and imposter and have obtained ten shillings from me by false pretences” ‘.

The case came up at Liverpool Winter Assizes in 1868 before Mr Justice Lush who suggested that it be referred for arbitration to Mr C J Preston, the stipendiary magistrate of Birkenhead. The suggestion was accepted and the proceedings were conducted by Mr Temple, barrister, for Torckler and Mr Bretherton, solicitor, for the Rev Tattersall.

The hearing, in March 1869, lasted six days and largely consisted of the investigation into the life and activities of William Young Torckler as summarised in the earlier parts of this tale.

Mr Bretherton, on behalf of the Reverend Mr Tattersall, in a very long address, pointed out that ‘this man, who had been in prison, who had deserted his wife and children, who had been guilty of bigamy, who had received hush money, estimated his character’s worth at £5,000. If the arbitrator could entertain that any one of the counts entitled Torckler to a verdict, then it must be the lowest coin of the realm’. ‘When a man came before them claiming £5,000 damages for his character, that character should be as pure as they conceive the character of erring man to be. It must be shown that the character was not of such a nature that the man would be better to have paid treble the money to get rid of his character than to stand up there and say it was damaged’.

Mr Preston, the arbitrator, was persuaded and he ended the proceedings after due deliberation by awarding Torckler damages of twenty shillings, with each of the parties to pay their own costs.

Torckler, true to form, paid nothing and filed for bankruptcy again, whilst the Rev Tattersall took a leaf from Torckler’s book and appealed to local freemasons and churches for help in meeting his liabilities which amounted to £500 (around £46,500 today).

The Liverpool Daily Post of Saturday, 26 February1870, reported “the costs incurred by the Rev Tattersall were so heavy that it was necessary for a subscription to be raised among some friends to defray them. The funds raised fell short of the requirements, and the Rev gentleman called his creditors together with a view to an arrangement. A deed was prepared and assented by most of the creditors, accepting four shillings in the pound at once, and five shillings more in instalments spread over two years, but all did not agree. One of them, Mr Joseph Hughes of London , who had been employed to find out the antecedents of Torckler, succeeded in upsetting the arrangement and obtaining a writ against the Rev gentleman. This was put into execution and Hughes was, up to yesterday, in possession of the vicar’s house and furniture. In the meantime, Messrs. Bretherton, acting for the Rev Tattesall, have obtained an injunction to restrain Hughes from selling the property.”

Subsequently, two months later, a legal action seeking possession of the house from Hughes was commenced by a Mr Tilby acting as ‘representative of friends of Mrs Tattersall’ and a bill of sale was produced proving that the house was not owned by the Rev Tattersall at the date possession was granted to Hughes. The case was heard before a jury who found in favour of Mr Tilby and the Tattersalls were able to move back into their home.

William Young Torckler, having had his strange career and means of income revealed, kept a relatively low profile afterwards and died aged 81 in 1885 in the city of Bath. His second (possibly bigamous) wife, Susan, sailed to New Zealand in 1903 with her daughter, Laura, and died in Wellington in 1911.

The Reverend William Alfred Tattersall, MA, continued his duties as the Vicar of Oxton until his death aged 55 in Birkenhead in 1884.

The ‘Great Masonic Trial’, so named because it involved Freemasons on both sides and created much comment amongst Masonic fraternities, started with ‘a storm in a teacup’, yet cost the 19th Century equivalent of many thousands of pounds, nearly ruined a ‘Man of God’ and benefitted no-one.

There must be a lesson here for all of us.



Suicide……or murder by a fellow Mason?

Barney Barnato
Barnett “Barney” Isaacs Barnato

Born in 1851 in the ‘Petticoat Lane’ area of Whitechapel in London’s East End, Barnett ‘Barney’ Isaacs was the son of Isaac Isaacs – a dealer in second-hand clothes and rags – and his wife, Leah, who died when Barney was just two years old.

As teenagers, Barney and his older brother, Henry, helped in their father’s business, did a bit of boxing coached by their father, acted as ‘bouncers’ in pubs (even though Barney was only 5’ 2” tall) and also performed conjuring, acrobatics and juggling at the local music halls. In the halls, they were introduced as ’The Great Henry Isaacs, and Barnett too’ and they became known as ‘the Barnato brothers’ – a name they gradually adopted in preference to Isaacs.

Henry Isaacs Barnato
Barney’s brother, Henry Isaacs Barnato

In 1871, Henry sailed out to join some cousins seeking their fortunes in South Africa where, in 1866, diamonds had been discovered. A couple of years later, when Barney was 21, he sailed out to join Henry and, together, they made ends meet by buying and selling a few diamonds as well as entertaining in the beer tents of the mining camps.

After spending a year learning about diamonds, Barney knew they could make much more money by buying their own diggings and they managed to acquire four adjacent claims near Kimberley. From that small start – each Kimberley claim was a patch of land only 31ft square – they went on to buy up and consolidate as many claims as they could afford. In doing so, they became the main rivals of Cecil Rhodes, who was working claims on what had been the De Beers farmland and who had come up with the same idea. In a few short years, the number of separate diamond producing claims in the Kimberley area had been consolidated from well over three thousand to less than one hundred. In 1888, “The Barnato Mine”, as the brothers’ consolidated holdings became known, was described as “the largest and most wealthy in the world”.

Barnato - Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes

Cecil Rhodes, intent on gaining control of the whole of the Cape’s diamond industry, started negotiations and Barney agreed to a merger of the brothers’ Kimberley Central Diamond Mining Co. with Rhodes’ De Beers mining empire. By doing so, he and Rhodes hoped to control the number of diamonds released on the market and thus improve and maintain prices by keeping the level of supply a little below the level of demand.

Ultimately, in 1889, after a court case brought by disgruntled shareholders who opposed the merger, the Barnatos liquidated their Company and Rhodes bought it with a cheque, then the largest ever written, for £5,338,650.00, of which £4 million went into the brothers’ pockets. Today’s equivalent value of that £4 million, based on UK average earnings, is almost £1.9 billion.  Not bad for the juggling sons of an East End rag dealer!


The Barnatos maintained an interest in diamonds, becoming shareholders and life governors of De Beers as well as owning one of only ten firms in the world allowed to buy diamonds from De Beers. But they now turned their main efforts to the pursuit of gold which had been discovered in the Johannesburg region in 1886. Although they were quite late in joining the party, they had large funds at their disposal along with Barney’s acute business acumen. They raised even more cash by forming several mining companies and issuing shares on the London Stock Exchange and quickly set about buying up and consolidating gold claims in the same way as they had with diamonds.

As their holdings and fortunes increased, the brothers took their older sister’s sons under their wings and their nephews, Woolf Joel, Solomon “Solly” Joel and Isaac “Jack” Joel joined the business – all three assumed ‘Barnato’ as a middle name.

On one of his many trips back to London, during January 1886, Barney was initiated into Freemasonry in The Lodge of Joppa No 188 which then met in the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street. Barney’s nephews, Solly and Jack Joel, were both initiated in January 1888 in Montefiore Lodge No 1017 which then met at the Café Royal in Regent Street.

It is said that, around this time, Barney had visiting cards which featured the motto “I’ll stand you a drink, but I won’t lend you a fiver”. Another story has it that Barney was once attending an upper-class party in a large house where the walls were lined with expensive works of art, when a glamorous Duchess invited him to “come upstairs and examine my Watteau”. Barney followed with great enthusiasm but was reportedly disappointed to find that the lady was referring to an eighteenth-century French painting!

The Masonic interest continued when The Barnato Lodge No 2265 was consecrated in 1888 and met at The Cock Tavern in Islington. The new Lodge was the idea of Masons who were involved in the diamond trade, mostly as merchants, and was named after the Barnato Mine – then “the largest in the world” – rather than the family.

Barnato Lodge Banner
The Barnato Lodge Banner from 1926 with the Diamond Lodge Crest amongst other symbols. The Hebrew inscriptions are the initial words of the Ten Commandments.

Barney’s brother, Henry Barnato, was its first initiate in July 1888 and his nephews, Solly and Jack Joel, became joining members on the same day. Jack served as Worshipful Master in both 1893 and 1904. Barney himself became a joining member of 2265 in September 1890 along with his nephew, Woolf Joel, who is recorded as having joined from “The Peace and Harmony Lodge of Holland” (there is no record of a Lodge of this name in the UGLE registers). The Barnato Lodge warrant was eventually surrendered and the Lodge was erased in 2016.

Isaac Jack Barnato Joel
Barney’s nephew, Isaac “Jack” Barnato Joel who was WM of The Barnato Lodge in both 1893 and 1904

Barney was proud and honoured to have been invited to attend Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations and, in June 1897, he and his nephew, Solly Joel, set sail to Southampton from Cape Town on Union Castle’s RMS Scot with Barney’s wife and family. After other relationships, one of which produced a daughter who died at only a few months old, Barney had set up home with South African born Fanny Bees in Kimberley and they married in Chelsea in 1892. The three young children returning to England with their parents were Leah Primrose Barnato, Isaac Henry “Jack” Barnato, who became an RAF pilot, and Woolf “Babe” Barnato, who became a racing driver and chairman of Bentley Motors.

Shortly after three o’clock on the afternoon of June 14th, 1897, when the ship was in the waters around Madeira, Barney was seated on deck with Solly and is said to have suddenly given “a spring” over the rail into the sea and drowned. Barney’s body was embalmed in Madeira and brought back to Southampton where an inquest was held at the South Western Hotel on Friday, June 18th, 1897 before the Coroner, Mr W Coxwell. There were only two witnesses at the inquest.

Solomon Barnato Joel
Barney’s nephew, Solomon “Solly” Barnato Joel, who sailed with Barney on the RMS Scot in June,1897

Solly Joel was the first to testify and gave the statement: “I was a passenger on board the Scot, and the deceased was a fellow passenger. I was walking on deck with him on Monday last at nine minutes past three in the afternoon. I was getting tired, so I asked him to sit down. He said, “Oh, no, let us walk.” We, however, sat down, and he asked me “What is the time?” I looked at my watch, told him, and then I saw him dash by. I had not time, in fact, to close my watch, or even to lift my eyes, when he gave a spring. I threw out my hands to catch him, but only caught the back of his trousers, and he jumped over the side into the sea. I screamed “murder,” and saw the fourth officer, who was sitting dozing, and said, “For God’s sake save him”.

In answer to further questions, Solly said: “at times, he was not in his right mind. One hour he appeared to be quite well, and the next his mind would wander. On the fatal day I noticed his behaviour and made up my mind not to leave him, and I did not. I think he had never shown signs of suicidal mania before.

The other witness was William Tarrant Clifford, the fourth officer, who gave the statement: “I had seen and spoken to Mr Barnato once or twice on the journey, and noticed nothing peculiar either in his appearance or actions. On the 14th, when in latitude 31.8N and 17.13 W., I saw him leap overboard. Mr Joel said something I don’t remember, and I think I said “I’ll go,” and with that, I pulled off my coat and jumped in after him. I did not reach the body, though I saw it some way off. I was subsequently picked up by the ship’s boat.” In answer to a further question, he told the jury that the body, which was floating face down, was also hauled into the boat and taken back to the ship.

The jury, after a short retirement, returned a verdict that the deceased jumped overboard, and met his death by drowning while temporarily insane.

Several unanswered (and unasked) questions arise. You can no doubt come up with your own, but here are a few to start with:

  • As there was no post-mortem, how was it established without doubt that death was caused by drowning?

  • Why was the body floating so soon after drowning? This indicates there may have been air, rather than water, in the lungs. The bodies of the victims of drowning usually quickly sink, whereas those that are dead or unconscious before they reach the water and land face-down tend to float as there is no way for air to escape.

  • Why did Solly shout “murder” rather than something like “help”? Was it actually Barney who shouted “murder”?

  • Solly said that the fourth officer (Clifford) was dozing. If so, how did Clifford see Barney ‘leap’ rather than just see Solly ‘catch’ the back of Barney’s trousers after the shout roused him?

And here are a few more points that couldn’t have been known at the time of the inquest:

  • Fanny didn’t attend the inquest, but she subsequently denied that Barney was “not in his right mind” at any time on the voyage.

  • After the inquest, the fourth officer, William Tarrant Clifford, was rewarded by the Joels with a payment of £1,000 and was promised that they would “use all their great influence to further his advancement”. Today’s equivalent value of £1000 in 1897, calculated using average earnings, is in excess of £400,000.

In her biography, ‘Spreading My Wings’ (Pub. 1994 Patrick Stephens Ltd.), Barney’s granddaughter, Diana Barnato Walker MBE (who was the first woman aviator to break the sound barrier) shares this information:

  • The fourth officer, Clifford, the only witness apart from Solly who gave evidence at the inquest, was a good friend of Solly’s and went shooting with him on his English estate.

  • Solly’s son, Stanhope Joel, told her that Solly had “pushed” Barney and “gave him the heave-ho overboard”.

  • Diana says that Solly may have “biffed” Barney before pushing him overboard. (Note: If Barney was knocked unconscious, this could explain why his body was floating).

  • Solly was determined to get control of the South African companies. “It was said that Solly masterminded a phoney indictment of illicit diamond buying against his brother Jack”. “My Uncle Jack didn’t wait for the case to come up but hopped it back to England…where he ran the English side of the business well out of Solly’s hair.”

  • “After Jack’s return to England, the only people left to thwart Solly were my Grandfather, Barney, and his nephew Woolf Joel” (Solly’s brother).

  • The year after Barney’s death, in 1898, “Woolf suddenly became the victim of a blackmailer called Von Veltheim” who shot Woolf dead when he refused to pay up but only got a two-year prison sentence for his crime. Solly’s son, Stanhope, suggested that “Solly probably paid for Von Veltheim’s defence”. (Note: In 1908, Von Veltheim also tried to blackmail Solly).

With Barney and Woolf now dead, Jack confined to England and Henry in poor health taking little interest in business affairs, Solly now had a clear run and quickly took virtually full control of the business, Johannesburg Consolidated Investments (JCI).

As a final postscript to this bizarre tale, more than  25 years after Barney was killed, a two-year investigation of JCI’s books was achieved via court actions brought by Barney’s family. This revealed that shortly before Barney’s death, Solly had, in Diana’s words, “been diddling Barney out of well-nigh one million pounds” which impacted the family’s inheritance. Solly was forced to pay the Barnato side of the family £960,000 (today’s equivalent is around £150 million) and, a short time later, paid a further large sum representing almost 30 years’ interest.

Suicide……………… or murder?

Barney Barnato 2

RIP Bro Barney Barnato, 1851-1897

Peter Reeve and Mike Neville, February 2018

W Bro Brice McGregor – Waterloo Hero


SERGEANT BRICE McGREGOR is named in several sources as one of the small band of men who fought to close and bar the gates at Hougoumont Farm on June 18th, 1815. Credited by Wellington as having sealed his victory against Napoleon, this was one of the most fierce and famous days of action in the Battle of Waterloo.

According to his 1846 obituary in The Times, whilst Brice was patrolling outside the Hougoumont gates, he was attacked by a French Cuirassier who struck at him with his sword. The cut was parried, the Frenchman shot dead and Brice then galloped the vanquished Frenchman’s horse into the farm where he cut off the eagles from the saddle-cloth to keep as a souvenir.

In 1809, Brice had served in the unsuccessful ‘Walcheren Campaign’. This was an expedition to the Netherlands intended to open a front in the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition and involved 40,000 British soldiers and 15,000 horses – all shipped across the North Sea along with a great deal of artillery. The four-month campaign involved little fighting, but incurred heavy losses from a sickness dubbed “Walcheren Fever”. Although more than 4,000 British troops died during the expedition, only 106 died in combat.

Brice was one of those stricken by the fever and “was carried on a sheet from the sick ward to the dead-house and placed in a shell”. The nurse in charge must have been quite shocked a little later when she entered the room and found him sitting up in his coffin. Fortunately, his strong constitution enabled him to survive and recover to fight at Waterloo.

Whilst still serving in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards (Scots Guards) in May 1816, just a year after Waterloo, Brice joined the ‘Lodge of United Strength’ (then No 399, now No 228) which met at the Saddler’s Arms in Swallow Street, Piccadilly and he remained a Lodge member for over 30 years until his death in 1846.

He joined the Lodge along with three of his colleagues who were also sergeants in the 3rd Guards of Foot – Thomas Goddard, William McRobert and the charmingly named Joseph Plumtree.  All four men had been initiated into Freemasonry only a month earlier in ‘Lodge 895’ which is believed to have been an ambulatory military Lodge for the 71st Highland Light Infantry warranted by the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland.

It would be great if anyone could help with an explanation as to how/why men of the 3rd Guards of Foot were allowed into the 71st HLI’s Lodge. It is understood (perhaps wrongly?) that the initiation of men from other regiments was a breach of the Irish Masonic rules of the day for military Lodges and could have resulted in Lodge 895 being fined or closed down?

According to Brice’s army discharge certificate, he enlisted in the regiment at the age of 18 in 1800 and was discharged in 1823, although his Times obituary quotes dates of 1799 and 1821 (journalists were apparently no more accurate then than they are now!). Shortly before leaving the army, he was installed as the Worshipful Master of the’ Lodge of United Strength’ and presided over its affairs in 1822 and 1823. After his discharge from the forces “in consequence of being worn out”,  he was appointed as keeper of the ‘Foot Guards Suttling House’ in the Tilt-yard at Horse Guards in Whitehall (effectively the publican in charge of the pub/canteen of the Guards).

The Suttling House tenancy was at the disposal of the field officers of the Foot Guards who reportedly ‘bestowed it on old, brave and meritorious non-commissioned officers’ and it was granted to Brice ‘as a reward for his prowess at the Battle of Waterloo’. The tenancy must have been a lucrative appointment as, according to his obituary, he left £15,000 to his son – an enormous sum at the time!

During the years that he kept the house, he was in the news a few times. On one occasion, he was in court accused of using too much force to eject an argumentative customer who, along with his wife, had been rather too boisterous whilst (in the lawyer’s words) “bowing to the throne of Bacchus”.  And he featured in all the London papers again when the Tilt Yard was attacked by someone unknown who threw an incendiary grenade which landed at his feet.

Whilst still in charge of the Suttling House, he was appointed by George IV as a Yeoman of The Guard and kept both positions until his death in 1846.

McGregor Brooch FB

At some point in the 1820s (the last digit of the presentation year is obscured), the brethren of his Lodge presented him with an engraved silver item. After his death in 1846, the engraved part was cut away and incorporated into the mourning brooch pictured – probably for his daughter as his wife had died a few years earlier. It is not now in very good condition, but when she wore it at his funeral almost 170 years ago, it would have sparkled with its jewelled surround and glass front and would have contained a lock of her father’s hair.

The engraved dedication reads: “Presented by the Members of the Lodge of United Strength, to Br. Brice McGregor, P.M. & T, as a Tribute of Gratitude, and a Memorial of Men, April 4, A.D. 182..” Regrettably, the Lodge records, which might have told us more about the silver item and the significance of the dedication, are missing and are believed to have been destroyed. However, it seems likely that the presentation took place in the mid to late 1820s after he had installed his successor as Master and served for a time as Tyler.

For those interested in further research, there is still much to discover about his life and career – but be aware that his name is variously recorded as McGregor, MacGregor, MacGreggor, Brice, Bryce, Bice, Price, Bruce and even as Bryan!

RIP, W Bro Brice.

Another Scandal in Yorkshire!

Wainhouse Tower

Any visitor to Halifax in West Yorkshire cannot fail to notice the Wainhouse Tower – particularly at night when it shines out from the hills at the West end of the town and points directly to ‘the Grand Lodge above’  as illustrated here in this brilliant, rather spooky,  photo taken by Christian Wilkinson.

The tower was originally intended to be a chimney for John Edward Wainhouse’s dye-works. However, before construction was finished, he sold the mill but kept the chimney to use as an observatory, adding steps inside it along with viewing galleries and the ornamental top that we see today.

For a few years before this, Wainhouse and Henry Edwards, the owner of the estate which neighboured the dye-works, had been feuding over such issues as water rights, nuisance smoke emissions, nuisance trees, blocked highways and the like. Wainhouse, who was somewhat eccentric, had published pamphlets criticising and lampooning Edwards and the two had faced each other in court several times. At one of these hearings, Wainhouse was asked if he had ever threatened or attempted to knock Henry’s brother’s teeth down his throat. “I have not” was the reply”, but I have no objection to try”!

John Edward Wainhouse
John Edward Wainhouse, 1817-1883

Edwards was no shrinking violet either and had boasted that he had the most private estate in Halifax, which no-one could overlook, but after the opening of Wainhouse’s viewing galleries in 1875, he could never make that boast again.

Henry Edwards (later Sir Henry Edwards, 1st Baronet of Pye Nest) was initiated into Freemasonry in the Lodge of Probity No 73 (now No 61) in Halifax in 1847. He was also a joining member of Constitutional Lodge No 371 in Beverley in 1858, a founder member of The Lodge of Sincerity No 1019 in Wakefield in 1864, a joining member of Westminster and Keystone Lodge No 10 in London in 1867 and a joining member of St James’s Lodge No 448 in Halifax in 1876.

He served as the Conservative MP for Halifax from 1847 to 1852 and was elected as the MP for Beverley in 1857 where he served for several terms. During Sir Henry’s tenure, Beverley became known as a notorious ‘rotten borough’ and after the election in 1868, there were allegations of corruption against Sir Henry and the other successful Tory candidate, Edmund Kennard (who was also a member of Westminster and Keystone Lodge No. 10). The famous author, Anthony Trollope, was one of their Liberal rivals at this election.

In 1869, a Government enquiry revealed corruption with at least 900 people (about half the electorate!) having received bribes. The election was pronounced null and void and Beverley was disenfranchised as a parliamentary constituency. It was said at the enquiry that, in Beverley, the price of a vote “was as well-known as the price of butter”.

British (English) School; Henry Edwards, JP, Chairman (1879-1886)
Henry Edwards, 1879-1886

Subsequently, in 1870, Sir Henry was tried for bribery at the Yorkshire Assizes before Mr Justice Brett with the Solicitor-General appearing for the prosecution. At this trial, it was revealed that “a perfect holocaust of correspondence and documents” which had existed at the time of the initial Government enquiry had been destroyed “on the advice of a Conservative Agent”.

Although the Government enquiry had shown that bribery had secured Beverley for the Tories in all the elections since Sir Henry first stood in 1857, and verbal evidence was given at the trial that a Mr Norfolk and a Mr Cronheim, one a  business partner and the other an employee  of Sir Henry, had delivered some of the funds from which the bribes were paid, Mr Justice Brett – a Tory politician – expressed the opinion that there was insufficient evidence to show that Sir Henry – also a Tory politician – was involved. The Solicitor-General then announced that he did not propose to offer any further evidence (maybe because there was no other evidence that had escaped destruction?). Consequently, Sir Henry was found not guilty and on leaving the court was “loudly cheered by his friends”.

This was not the result of a ‘Masonic conspiracy’ – no Masons were sitting in judgement – but was there an ‘establishment conspiracy’? ……..No comment!

Five years after these events, in 1875 – the same year that Wainhouse Tower was completed to take its place in the history of the town – Sir Henry was installed as the Provincial Grand Master of The Freemasons of West Yorkshire.

Bro. ‘GUSTAVE FASOLA’ 1875-1929

Gustave Fasola 1

Born in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire in April 1875, Fergus O’Conner Greenwood eventually became the stage illusionist, ‘Gustave Fasola’. It was under this stage name, in December 1904, that he was initiated into Freemasonry in the ‘Duchy of Cornwall Lodge No 3038’ which then met at ‘Horns Hotel’ in Kennington Park (pictured here in around 1910).Gustave Fasola Horns Hotel

At the time, there were other entertainers who used their stage names for Lodge membership, but would it be allowed by UGLE now? And, in 1904, would a candidate’s conviction and prison sentence from 12 years earlier have needed to be disclosed on his application?

As a teenager, Fergus toured small halls and schools with a friend, James Lee, billing himself as “Professor Greenwood, sleight-of-hand entertainer”. During this period, the youths were in the habit of taking lodgings in the towns in which they were working and then leaving suddenly without paying their hosts – sometimes taking with them bits and pieces that didn’t belong to them!

In 1892 in Blackburn, Lancashire, they were both convicted of ‘larceny’ and sent to prison for a month after a weekend spent using their talents for nefarious purposes. After staying on a Saturday at a lodging house in Bridge Street, they made themselves disappear along with “a purse, a lady’s companion, a  box of paints, a picture frame, and a pack of cards” leaving their account unpaid. On the same day they had stolen two over-coats from the shop of a Mr Beaumont in Northgate, and they then turned up on the Sunday at a lodging house run by a Mrs Parks asking her to shorten the coats to fit them.  They left her house the next day, again without paying, and took with them various things including her “hairbrush and comb”.

In court, they told the Bench that they gave ‘conjuring entertainments’ in schools. “Yes” interrupted Chief Constable Lewis who had arrested them “and they can do it very well, too”. Unfortunately, this review of their showbiz talents from a respected member of the community didn’t help much with the Blackburn justices who handed out the one-month jail sentence.  Lee confirmed he had also been before the Nelson justices for larceny and Greenwood admitted that he had twice been in custody in Birmingham. The local press reported that they were “both well-dressed, seemed indifferent to their position, and smiled in the dock” as they pleaded guilty to all the charges and received their sentences.

By 1894, Fergus was receiving wider recognition for his talents and, in October of that year, he was promoted by a Burnley based showbiz agent in ‘The Era’ as “Professor Greenwood, the boy illusionist, acknowledged to be the youngest prestidigitateur in the World.” A few weeks later, the advert was “Professor Greenwood….. Scientific Illusionist and Conjurer”.

Gustave Fasola The Fays

Fergus was also employed for a few years in the 1890s as an assistant to the well-known entertainers ‘THE FAYS’ i.e. Alexander Fay (whose real name was Alfred Hutchinson) and his sister, Annie. The Fays had become famous throughout the World because of the tragic events at one of their matinee shows in Sunderland on June 16th, 1883. What caused the most excitement amongst the children of the town on that fateful day was the announcement that “Every child will stand the chance of receiving a handsome present” – and well over 1,500 children showed up and paid a penny to try their luck.

At the end of the show, when the gifts were being distributed, there was a ‘Hillsborough type’ stampede. Disastrously, a door at the bottom of the stairs from the gallery had been bolted ajar, leaving just enough space for one person to squeeze through at a time. Within seconds, the gap was choked and the once-laughing, once-smiling, youngsters became a writhing heap of bodies.

The hall manager was one of the first to arrive at the door from its other side. He told the coroner at the inquest: “When I approached the lower door I heard some fearful screams, groans and noises of struggling. I rushed to the door and attempted to open it, and found I could not do so; the bolt was in the socket about two feet from the door frame, and the opening was jammed up nearly as high as my head with the bodies of children.” 183 youngsters, some only 3 years old, tragically lost their lives on that dreadful day.

By 1897, Fergus had left the employ of the Fays and taken with him Alexander’s daughter, also named Annie, whom he married in Norwich in 1895.  He also took with him all the secrets he had learned about their magic acts and started performing as ‘Gustave Fasola’.  At this time, he was appearing in “Miss Lyle’s American Mysteries assisted by Gustave Fasola, illusionist and hypnotist in Light & Dark Séances, The Phoenix, and Original Locked and Corded Box Illusions”.  Within a year or so, he had taken over the star spot from ‘Miss Lyle’ (who may have been his wife, Annie) and the act was billed as “Gustave Fasola, Ventriloquist and Conjurer, also Miss Lyle in her Cabinet Séance”.

He was next in the newspapers early in 1907 – three years after joining Duchy of Cornwall Lodge 3038 – when Horace Goldin, a famous Lithuanian born illusionist from the USA (who billed himself as the “Royal Illusionist” as he had once performed for UGLE Grand Master, Edward VII) sought an injunction against him at the Glasgow Sheriff’s Court. Goldin was trying to stop Gustave, who was appearing at the Glasgow Empire as “ The Famous Indian Fakir”, from performing a trick in which a pretty girl appears to be fired from a cannon on the stage into a box suspended from the theatre’s roof above the audience.

Gustave Fasola Horace Goldin

In Court, it was claimed that Goldin held a patent on the trick, and, no doubt much to his disappointment, the secret of the trick was revealed to be dependent on nothing more complex than use of a trapdoor in the stage. The girl exited the cannon through its base, rather than through its barrel, and went under the stage through the trapdoor. Once the trapdoor was closed, the cannon was wheeled away and the box was lowered from the roof to take its place over the trapdoor.  It was then a relatively simple matter for the scantily clad girl to enter the box through a panel in its base to be revealed to tremendous applause when the box was opened.

(When I was just a slip of a lad, I saw this trick performed by a famous illusionist of the day, whose name I’ve forgotten, at the Palace Theatre in my hometown of Halifax in Yorkshire. My family were seated up in ‘the Gods’ and, after the cannon had been fired and wheeled away, we could clearly see that someone under the stage was still struggling to close the trapdoor before the box was lowered to the stage to cover it. The audience in the expensive seats in the stalls no doubt wondered why there were roars of laughter coming from the rabble seated high-up in the cheap seats!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sherriff in Glasgow refused to grant the injunction and, despite the trick’s secret having been revealed both in Court and in the press, Gustave, along with many other magicians, continued to perform it and even took the trick on tour to Australia as the following Melbourne news cutting from 1911 shows (note that Gustave, the Englishman and ‘Indian Fakir’, has now become Italian!):Gustave Fasola 1911 Melbourne

Gustave Fasola photo

Gustave Fasola 2

Although the Melbourne newspaper was not gushingly complimentary about our Bro’s act, his two-year tour of Australia and New Zealand seems to have been very successful and well-received and he is recorded in the annals of history as being the first illusionist ever to use a lion in a stage act in Australia.

In February 1911, soon after his arrival in Australia, Bro. Gustave was at the Melbourne Opera House to perform his ‘Lady to Lion’ Illusion.

Gustave Fasola Lion to Lady

Waiting in the wings, was an 18-year-old African Lion, named ‘Wallace’, who had been borrowed from Melbourne Zoo. He was confined in a cage but managed to escape and spring across the stage in front of a startled audience before calmly making his way out of the theatre onto the streets. A woman in the street who saw him come out of the stage door fainted and everyone else in the vicinity fled in various directions to find whatever safe havens were available.

Followed by Gustave’s assistant, James Pearson, Wallace eventually wandered into the open door of the Temperance and General Mutual Life Society’s building on Little Collins Street. Pearson quickly closed the door and remained outside whilst thoseGustave Fasola Lion at Large inside the building barricaded themselves into offices. Around a thousand people gathered in the street waiting to see either the ‘capture or the kill’ and State Troopers were called to clear a space in front of the building and keep order. It was two hours later when a team from the Zoo arrived with a cage into which Wallace proudly strutted after his adventurous day out.

Our Bro’s son, Fergus Greenwood Jnr, was born in Auckland, New Zealand in March 1912 and a year later, shortly before his return to England, Bro Gustave was injured and some of his stage props were destroyed in a railway accident in Perth. It was reported that he and his assistant were nearly killed, but he was back on the road performing again within a few weeks.

However, his injuries may have been more serious than he originally thought as, back in the UK, he seems to have phased out his stage appearances. Before he went to Australia, he had started a business which manufactured and sold tricks and stage equipment for magicians from an address in Acre Lane, Brixton and maybe he was concentrating on this, rather than performing.

It looks like our Bro’s business wasn’t particularly successful and, in 1921, a company that was storing his equipment at two different London addresses placed adverts in the trade press warning that the goods would be sold to defray expenses unless claimed within 14 days.

Gustave Fasola in USA 2
The Shreveport Times (Louisiana) December 21, 1925

Gustave rarely performed on stage again in the UK where the ‘variety’ industry was in the doldrums as films, particularly those from America, became more popular, but he was obviously trying to revive his flagging fortunes when, in the mid-1920s, he went to the USA and found work in cinemas, vaudeville and carnivals. As these press items from the USA show, he didn’t achieve the ‘top billing’ he’d enjoyed in Australia but was managing to make ends meet.


Gustave Fasola in USA 1
Green Bay Press-Gazette (Wisconsin) 12 August 1924
A review of the “Green Bay Labor Temple Festival”. The “carrier boys” were the lads employed by the Press-Gazette to distribute their papers who had been invited to the festival as a reward for their endeavours.

In the USA, Gustave had also developed a friendship with the famous American Illusionist, Howard Thurston, who has been described as “The Last Great Magician in the World”.

During his long career at the top of the magic business, from around 1908 to 1936, Thurston was equally as famous as Harry Houdini and, in the opinion of many, was a far better magician than Houdini. He toured with an enormous show featuring a cast of beautiful chorus girls, appearing and disappearing animals, mysterious cabinets – and, of course, many packs of playing cards – and he regularly dazzled his audiences with spectacular tricks and illusions.

But Thurston was not a prolific inventor of new tricks and relied on other magicians with whom he traded ideas and equipment. Our Bro. Gustave was one his collaborators and had allowed him to use the ‘Lady to Lion’ trick that had been such a draw for Gustave in Australia many years earlier. A letter from Thurston to Gustave reads ”Remember, Gus, that you and I are two best friends possible for two magicians to be, and that we have given our word to assist each other to the best extent and not to hold back any secrets”.

Gustave Fasola Howard Thurston

Gustave, now tired of touring ‘small town America’, decided to return to Europe to launch a spectacular new show using both his own and some of Thurston’s illusions.  As part of the arrangement, Gustave employed an attorney to file for a US patent in Gustave’s name, with an assignment to Thurston, for a trick called the ‘Million Dollar Mystery’. The patent was filed in late 1928 and was granted in 1930.

This trick – which is still performed today – is a stage illusion where a raised box is placed in the centre of the stage and shown to be empty. The magician is then able to produce as many items as he wishes – e.g. people, animals, or anything else – from inside the box. If you want to learn the secret of the trick (along with others which are referenced on the link) you can see the patent documents online here:

Excited about working with Thurston to develop his new show, Gustave arrived back in Plymouth from the USA on the Atlantic Transport Line’s ship ‘Minnekhada’  in late August 1928. Regrettably, however, the arrangement with Thurston seems to have acrimoniously broken down – possibly due to the involvement of another magician named ‘Dante’ who had secured the rights to perform Thurston’s tricks in South America but then transferred his act to Europe where Gustave had expected to be granted the sole rights.

This devastated Gustave’s efforts to revive his career and, by 1929 when the whole of the ‘Western World’ was approaching an unprecedented state of economic collapse, his disappointment at being unable to put a new show together and get back to work had spiralled into a depression from which he never recovered.

Fergus O’Conner Greenwood, aka Bro. Gustave Fasola, tragically hanged himself in Flat 6 at No 14, Cranworth Gardens, Brixton on January 12th, 1929.

RIP Bro. Gustave.

Screenshot 2017-12-02 14.48.44

Peter Reeve and Mike Neville December 2017

With many thanks to Jeannie Talbot (nee Greenwood) for her help. 


York Gallows
The Gallows at York where the Halifax men, Hartley, Thomas and Normanton were hanged.

If you’ve made the wise decision to buy Mike Neville’s latest book, ‘Crime and the Craft’, you will have read the bizarre tale of the Yorkshire inventor and Freemason, Thomas Denton, who went to the gallows in 1789 in London in a merry mood “as if he had gone to a wedding”.

Along with his friend, John Jones, who may also have been a Yorkshire Freemason, Denton had been sentenced to death for the treasonous offence of possessing implements to make counterfeit coins. His coins were so well made that they could not be proven to be fakes – hence the ‘possession of implements’ charge.

Denton’s full true story in Mike’s book (which also involves robots, an odd device for sexual therapies and Nelson’s mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton) is well worth the price of the book on its own!

In the mid to late 1700s, the offence of ‘coining’ (i.e. ‘diminishing’ or ‘clipping’ gold or silver from the edges of genuine coins to melt and make into fakes) was widespread, particularly in Yorkshire. One of the most notorious gangs involved, now known as the ‘Cragg Vale Coiners”, was led by ‘King’ David Hartley who was convicted in 1769 and hanged in York in 1770. Cragg Vale, although fairly close to Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was a remote place in those days so it suited the coiners well.

Many coins from other countries, particularly Spain and Portugal, were circulating freely in Britain, and these were particularly susceptible to being tampered with. By the 1770s, it was estimated that gold clippings amounting to 9% of the weight of all the gold coins in circulation had been melted and turned into fakes with a face value of three and a half million pounds (today’s equivalent value is about 5.8 BILLION pounds based on average earnings).

So it is not really surprising that, in the late 1760s, another group of coiners who met at the Bacchus Tavern in Halifax town centre (pictured here and demolished in around 1937) came up with the idea of forming a Masonic Lodge to use as an excuse for their regular meetings and conceal their real purpose.

Bacchus Tavern
The Bacchus Tavern in Halifax photographed in around 1936

As attempts were underway to establish the new Lodge, the members of what is now the Lodge of Probity No 61 in Halifax were getting worried and in a postscript to a letter to Grand Lodge dated December 1768 they wrote “We are sorry to inform you that a set of persons or people are forming themselves in an illegal manner in this town who probably may apply for a warrant; we suppose they will be a discredit to the fraternity”. Despite this, in 1769, Grand Lodge granted a warrant to the Bacchus Lodge which, in the few years of its existence, was numbered 383, then 268 and finally 269.

From its start, the Bacchus Lodge made regular charity contributions to Grand Lodge. Maybe it could only afford this because of its members’ nefarious enterprises – the Lodge of Probity usually failed to make any contributions at all !!

One of the first Initiates to the Bacchus Lodge, on 6 November 1769, was John Cockroft, aged 22, a “woollen manufacturer” of Sand Hall, Highroadwell in Halifax. A little over a month later, Bro. Cockroft was arrested on suspicion of ‘clipping’ gold guineas and was taken to York Castle. Following the sentencing of ‘King’ David Hartley, the trials of over twenty other suspects, including Cockroft, were postponed and he was given bail. He then successfully evaded the law until 1778 when he was committed to Lancaster Castle for trial on a charge of forging half-pence coins but, luckily for him, he was acquitted as a result of a technical flaw in the indictment.

In 1782, he was again caught – ‘red-handed’ this time  – when, in the words of the prosecutor, “he was surprised at Work in his Garret being then edging blank Counterfeit Shillings by means of his throw Wheel and a File, which he had not time to part with, but on his Wife giving the Alarm, he leap’d down at a trap door with the File in his Hand, which from its’ being silver’d over, plainly shew’d the Business he had been at, and indeed the state of his Workboard plainly proved he was taken in full Business, for there were no fewer than 449 Counterfeit Shillings without Impression mostly finished, but some in part finished”.

The coins were made “in Imitation of old bare shillings which have lost their Impression….as these he thought pass’d better in general than Counterfeits with an Impression upon them….he thought it more safe to make them than Counterfeits with Impressions, as they required no coining Press Dyes or other Implements which would be the means of conviction, if found…. he finished them by means of Steel Rollers and a Throw Wheel which might be used in Button-making as well as in Coining — but not at all applicable to his Business of a Woollen Manufacturer “.

Bro. Cockroft’s luck appeared to have run out – he was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death – but his good fortune hadn’t completely deserted him and the sentence was later commuted to transportation for life to a government settlement in East Africa.

Bacchus Lodge again came to the attention of Grand Lodge when it made a complaint against ‘The Old Cock Lodge’ concerning the ‘un-genteel treatment’ of one of their brethren who had attended a St John’s day festival.  There doesn’t seem to have been a Lodge of that name, but ‘The Old Cock Inn’, which is still in business in the town, is where the Lodge of Probity met at the time.  Just what this ‘un-genteel treatment’ involved is not clear, but, after an appeal to Grand Lodge, the Bacchus Lodge was finally erased as being ‘a disgrace to Masonry’ in April 1783, the year following Bro. Cockroft’s conviction.

Old Cock

‘The Old Cock Inn’, pictured above, is also where ‘King’ David Hartley was arrested and where, in 1852, a group of worthy men formed what became the ‘Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society’ (now part of Lloyds TSB). Some might say that, by the year 2010, ‘The Halifax’, through greed and dodgy dealings, had incurred a cost to the state even more vast than that of the coiners!

‘King’ David Hartley and several other ‘Cragg Vale Coiners’ had been arrested, convicted and hanged in 1769/70 through the work of excise officer William Deighton (or Dighton) who was subsequently shot dead – allegedly at the instigation of Hartley’s family who put a price of 100 guineas on Deighton’s head. The murder was committed at a location at, or very close to, the present position of the Blackwall Masonic Hall in Bull Close Lane, Halifax which is the current home of De Warren 1302, St John’s 1736, Rokeby 6301, Heatherstone Savile RA Chapter 1302 and the Garuda Temple No 1 of the ‘The August Order of Light’.

One of the men suspected of the murder, Matthew Normanton, went on the run, whilst the other man, Robert Thomas, was caught but acquitted due to lack of evidence.  A witness later came forward who had been their ‘look-out’ at the murder and Thomas was then convicted of robbing the dead man (he could not be re-tried for the murder).   He was hanged in York in August 1774 and his body was then brought back to Halifax and hung in chains on Beacon Hill, which overlooks the town, with his right arm strapped to stretch out with the finger pointing to the murder scene in Bull Close Lane.

Matthew Normanton was captured in 1775 and he too was hanged in York and his body hung in chains next to the rotting corpse of his accomplice, Robert Thomas.

Halifax from Beacon Hill
Halifax is overlooked by Beacon Hill where the bodies of the hanged murderers were hung in chains – one with an arm and finger strapped up to point at the murder scene!

Some of our more sensitive brethren (myself included) have had odd experiences at Blackwall Hall, but, if it is haunted, we’re not sure whether the ghost is the murder victim, William Deighton, or his murderer with the pointing finger, Robert Thomas. Well-intentioned visitors are always welcome!

Peter Reeve, November 2017

W Bro J B McDowell, MC, BEM. 1877-1954


John Benjamin McDowell
W Bro Lieutenant J B McDowell MC, BEM.

Born in Plumstead in December 1877, John Benjamin McDowell was initiated into Freemasonry in 1902 in ‘Rye Lodge No 2272’, which then met in High Holborn. In 1912, he was a founder member of ‘Woolwich Polytechnic Lodge No 3578’ and, in 1915, hJ B McDowell Outre Manchee was a joining member of ‘Duchy of Cornwall Lodge No 3038’ which then met at the Café Monico in Shaftesbury Avenue. He served as Worshipful Master in all three Lodges, being the youngest ever WM of Rye Lodge in 1913, and remained a member of all three Lodges throughout WW1 and the following years, earning his first London Rank in 1927. In around 1920, he was also a founder member of ‘Outre Manche – Across the Channel Lodge No 14’ in Calais.

At the age of 15, John was an engineering apprentice at Woolwich Arsenal, involved with the manufacture of munitions, but by 1898 he was working as a cameraman, projectionist and electrician for ‘The  British Mutoscope and Biograph Syndicate’, often showing  Biograph films of the Boer War at the Palace Theatre in London. In early 1908, after short spells with film-makers, ‘Warwick Trading’ and ‘Walturdaw’, John went into partnership with a former colleague and formed  the ‘British and Colonial Kinematograph Company’ (B & C) producing news, documentaries and short comedies – the first comic film he directed was ‘A Breach of Promise Case ’ in June 1908 which starred two pet dogs!

‘B & C’ became a limited company in 1911 and began producing longer dramas along with its short comedies, news and documentary items. By 1913, John was in sole charge of the company and produced what has been hailed as ‘the first British epic film’ – an 86 minute spectacular depiction of the Battle of Waterloo employing hundreds of extras and horses. A squadron of the 12th Lancers cavalry regiment was loaned to the production and the regimental historian recorded “the facts that Napoleon could not ride a horse and that a sergeant in the regiment appropriated Wellington’s boots nearly prevented the film being made”!  Nevertheless, the film was finished – in only 5 days – and was a great success when released in the summer of 1913. John later commented that “everyone made money out of it….and went home happy”.

J B McDowell Battle of Waterloo
A scene from ‘The Battle of Waterloo’

The film’s director was Charles Weston who is believed to have been the older brother of writer/director, Harold Weston, who also worked on several British and Colonial productions. Harold was introduced to Freemasonry by W Bro John and was initiated in Duchy of Cornwall Lodge No 3038 in October 1915.

J B McDowell - Charles-Weston-1915-June-30-passport-photo
Charles Weston in 1915

Tragically, Charles Weston jumped to his death from an open window on the 18th floor of a building on West 42nd Street in New York City in 1919. He left behind a hypodermic syringe and needle in an envelope on which he had written: “This is man’s greatest curse”. He also left a 500-word suicide note headed “How One Feels Just Before Death by Jumping From the Eighteenth Floor of a Building“ and continues “Five minutes from now I will know what death is like, but I have no fear of hell. I cannot suffer more than I have…….. I feel just like a man waiting to meet his boss when there is something wrong”.

B&C’s next major production, in 1914, was ’Loves and Adventures in the Life of Shakespeare’ on which W Bro John worked as Director. He had married Emily Ada White in 1900, but now fell in love with Emilie Olympia Rudolphine Martinek, who was cast to portray Queen Elizabeth in the film using the name ‘Aimee Martinek’. She also used the names ‘Olympia Sumner’ and ‘Sophia Sumner’ in other productions. Her brother Oceano and her sister-in-law, Ivy Martinek, also worked on ‘British and Colonial’ films.

J B McDowell wife
W Bro John’s lady, Emilie Olympia Rudolphine Martinek, portraying Queen Elizabeth in the film, Loves and Adventures in the Life of Shakespeare, directed by John in 1914.

Emilie was born into a touring circus family in Germany in 1878 and came to England in around 1908 with her parents and family which included her daughter from an earlier marriage. She and John had a long-lasting relationship and their daughter, Adrienne Aimee Franklin McDowell, was born in February 1915 – ‘Franklin’ was the maiden name of John’s mother.  It was less than a month before John joined The Duchy of Cornwall Lodge No 3038 that Adrienne was born – maybe he was having sleepless nights and went to Lodge meetings to snatch forty winks!

After war broke out in August 1914, John joined the Volunteer Training Corps and was also involved in negotiating for the rights to film the war – he was the signatory for ‘B & C’ in the final agreement with the War Office. He eventually got his chance in June 1916 when one of the two ‘Official War Office Kinematographers’ who had been authorised to film the allied armies in action in France was invalided home. John volunteered to replace him and within days, still a civilian, he was at the Western Front working with the other official cameraman, Geoffrey H Malins, in the battlefields of the Somme. The officer in charge noted that, during the filming, “Mr McDowell ran considerable risks. I have seen him have very narrow escapes, notably from machine gun-bullets…when trying to cross no man’s land…and several times from shells….he has also been gassed”.

J B McDowell filming in trenches with George V edit
W. Bro. John filming His Majesty KIng George V in the trenches of the Western Front

The finished film, ‘The Battle of the Somme’, was released in August 1916 – while the battle itself was still raging – and, although many of the bloodiest scenes were cut as the War Office wanted images that would raise morale, it still contains some of the most iconic images of the horrors of war. On 28 August, the Yorkshire Evening Post printed the comment, attributed to Lloyd George, “If the exhibition of this Picture all over the world does not end War, God help civilisation”.  It was a tremendous success and, during the first six weeks of its release, it was seen by twenty million people in Britain – that’s almost half the population – and was also shown in eighteen other countries. So many people bought tickets for the film that it held the UK Box Office record until Star Wars was released in 1977.

J B McDowell trench
One of the iconic images from W Bro John’s 1916 documentary, The Battle of the Somme

The ‘Evening Star’ reported that “The Somme pictures have stirred London more passionately than anything has stirred it since the war began. Everybody is talking about them. Everybody is discussing them. Everybody is debating the question whether they are too painful for public exhibition.”

You can watch the film yourself here:

Some readers will know that Mike Neville, one of the co-authors of this ‘fragment of history’, was the originator and DCI in charge of the Met’s ‘Super Recognisers’ team at Scotland Yard.In a bizarre twist to this tale, one of Mike’s team in the Met was asked by ‘The Times’ in 2014 to help identify the man carrying a comrade who is shown in the above still from the film – many people had claimed him as a relative. Mike had no idea at the time that one of the film-makers, W. Bro John, had been a member of the same Lodge as Mike a hundred years earlier! The Times article is not available online, but this link is to the Daily Mail’s take on the 2014 story:

W. Bro John went on to work on more productions for the War Office including newsreels and the major films, ‘The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks’ and ‘The German Retreat and The Battle of Arras’. In April 1918, although still a civilian, he was put in charge of the movements of all the cameramen on the Western Front. In June 1918, both he and Malins were awarded the ‘Medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ (known as the ‘BEM’ from 1922) for ‘courage and devotion to duty’  and John was eventually commissioned as a Lieutenant in July 1918 when he was also awarded the ‘Military Cross’ for ‘courage under fire’.

J B McDowell as War Correspondent with another, circus act
W Bro McDowell (on the right) with Geoffrey H Malins

After the war, John returned to less hazardous work as a freelance cameraman and filmed, amongst other newsworthy events, the wedding of Princess Mary in 1922. In the same year, he founded ‘McDowell’s Commercial Films’ which failed after a couple of years and was voluntarily wound up. From 1926 onwards, he first worked for Agfa in their cinema film department and then for a company in Welwyn Garden City ‘dealing with American negative stock’. In 1939 he was recorded as living with Emilie and Adrienne and working as a ‘travelling salesman for …(illegible) …for jointings for engineers’ and in 1949 he was reported in the trade press as having “retired from films…..but making a second fortune in engineering”

Emilie died in 1950 and W Bro John himself died in 1954 in Pitsea, Essex, at the home of his daughter, Adrienne, to whom he left estate valued at under £500.

In 1920, Geoffrey H Malins published his best-selling book ‘How I Filmed the War’ in which he down-played W Bro John’s role to such an extent that the book never even mentioned his name – hence the subtitle, ‘THE FORGOTTEN CAMERAMAN OF WW1’.

Many thanks to Sally Freytag (nee Martinek), Chip and Yvonne Thompson (nee McDowell) and Valerie Brown (nee Sanders) for their assistance in supplying photographs and biographical detail.

Peter Reeve and Mike Neville, September 2017.