Morris Fuller; the man behind the Scandal Part 2

Part 2.

 

When searching the Census and family histories, it soon became clear that something was amiss in the Fuller household. A notice in the Brighton Gazette on December 4th 1845, when Morris was 15, put a very different light on things and set the next course in the direction of my researches. There is certainly no mistaking this man for any other Thomas Fuller as he was most certainly  Morris’s father and his life’s course must have profoundly affected the lives of his family, perhaps going some way to explaining Morris Fuller’s own very driven life. 

The British Newspaper Archive has been essential to this next part of the story and to start, we must go back some 13 years earlier in the family when we learn from the local newspapers in 1832  that the family business,  described as “an established and extensive Business carried on as Curriers and Leather Cutters for a great number of years to the present time.”  has been declared bankrupt and this notice appears in July 1832 reprinted, as with all these public notices, from the London Gazette:

 

For the next 7 years until the final dividend of 1839, the administration of the debts and the paying out of dividends is regularly published in the London Gazette.

The results of these protracted negotiations are not to be found in the local newspaper columns so we will never know if they had at some point to relinquish their “Household Furniture of which they were respectively in possession, at their respective dwelling houses at the date of the Fiat.”   However, the appearance over several issues of notices of “AUCTION SALES” to be held in October shows that plans had at least in theory been formulated to pay the creditors and salvage their livelihoods. They show that Messrs Fuller & Son had quite a property portfolio in addition to their stock in trade as leather merchants:

Of particular interest is a very prestigious investment in what became Adelaide Crescent in Hove. This is found as 3 of the Auction lots that were to be sold on 12th. October 1832 at the Clarence Hotel in Brighton:

 

Who eventually was responsible for the completion of Nos 1, 2 and 3  Adelaide Terrace  (Lots vi,vii,and viii from the October auction notice above) has so far been impossible to ascertain, though it is quite possible that Thomas Fuller’s  brother -in-law ( Morris's Uncle, Ebenezer Morris, Brighton Iron founder and business man) who was a Mortgagee of part of the Fuller estate, or his brother, William Fuller (one of the Bankrupts and also an Assignee of the Fiat ) dealt with that part of the debt. However, the houses most surely were completed along with further buildings soon to become known as Adelaide Crescent, right at the heart of Regency Brighton on the sea front.

It was sufficiently complete in time to be included in a publication which was advertised  on 27 November 1833 in the Brighton Guardian:

 

The Antheum was a glass and cast iron domed botanical garden  that collapsed before final completion even though the public were alread visiting it. It is most fortunate that nobody was killed or injured when it fell. There were meetings called to rebuild it at a cost of £10,000 but it was never to be.

 

 

This venture was a very real part of the property speculations that were building Brighton into the fashionable place to be, and Morris’s father, Thomas Fuller Jun., seems if nothing else to have spent a lot of this part of his life trying to be a part of it. Along with the properties we have already seen where the family resided, Nos. 1,2,and 3 Adelaide Crescent are also very much in evidence today, the remainder of the Crescent being built on the site of the fallen botanical glass-house

Google Street View

 

 The Brighton Gazette tells us No. 1 was occupied by December 1833 as the “Hon Mrs Greville, (wife of the Hon. Robert Fulke Greville) has issued cards for a grand ball and supper on 31st Dec on taking possession of her new house in Adelaide Crescent”

The paper also announced  that “Several houses are now finished in Adelaide Crescent. The first occupied in that delightful spot has just been opened as a school.” 

With reference to the above, No 5, which wasn’t part of the Fuller auction sale, was complete and occupied by  "Mrs. Davis & Mrs. H Cooper’s Establishment for Young Ladies” opened on August 1st 1833.

 

At present, how the family managed to cope with what we would have thought to be the stigma of bankruptcy is unknown. What the papers do begin to say is that Thomas Fuller, (and we have now to assume they mean Jun.,) by July 1836, still in the middle of the bankruptcy, is being proposed for inclusion for election as one of the Commissoners for the Hundred of Whalebone. At the time 16 such positions were being contested but Thomas failed to gain a place, coming 18th in the field. His address then was given as Western Road so he may well have been living at the Priory then and with Hannah’s school established.

 

Two years later in January 1838 he failed to make the grade again, this time by just one place, in a controversial Whig/Tory battle. His 1836 sponsor Mr Bowdidge “on the part of Mr Thomas Fuller demanded a scrutiny” the result being that Thos. Fuller’s name was added to the list of those elected but “so loosely had the election been conducted, it was impossible to make a return and therefore is null and void” The result was subsequently upheld and so the final list of 27 names were elected.

On 24th April 1838 Mr Bowdidge proposed a list of men including Thomas Fuller for election to the Vestry to act as Directors and Guardians of the Poor. Other names based on party political lines were also proposed and much “discussion” reported. It included the following point made by Mr Bowdidge in defence of an unidentified proposed candidate:  

" A Vestry meeting, which was held previously to the appointment of the overseers, sent in a list including Whigs, Tories, and Radicals, to the Magistrates; but did they choose any from the list?  No; but one of them insulted a most respectable man by asking whether he had not been a bankrupt. He (Mr. Bowdidge) would put it to the meeting whether any man, with the feelings of a gentleman or a Christian, would have done so? (Loud cheers) It was a disgrace to the man who uttered the language; and if it had been applied to him (Mr B) he would have had satisfaction,  and if it had not been given, he would have taken it.

In May 1839 he is found as a Committee member of the newly formed Brighton Conservative Association .

 

The papers then report Mr W Barnes was elected to the position of High Constable on Jan 7th 1841 it is assumed to fill a vacant position until the next appointment in April 1841:

 

 

It seems as if on political grounds at least, the bankrupt sheep was welcomed back to the fold. Whether “Society” at the time was ever entirely comfortable with the situation is another matter and how it affected the Fuller family is really the purpose of these investigations 

Thomas Fuller had a quite eventful year in office and lest we forget, he had a wife and 5 children ranging in ages from 9 to18 ; Morris was then 11. For the first time we see the editorial opinion of Thomas, the man, in the Brighton Gazette:

 

During his year in Office, in April, he supported the sending of a petition to Parliament, as briefly mentioned above, advocating the abolition of the Church Rate.

 

In August he chaired a controversial decision regarding the enlargement of the Workhouse, rescinding a previous course of action taken by the Vestry.

 

His chief sucess upon the greasy pole of early Victorian politics was as the figurehead that announced and attended to the Royal Visit of Victoria and Albert to Brighton in February 1842. In addition to this auspicious occasion he was also able to report in the Brighton Gazette  on 24th March the following:

 

The HIGH CONSTABLE takes the earliest opportunity of communicating to the Inhabitants of the Borough that he had the distinguished honor (accompanied by Capt. G.R.Pechell. R.N., M.P.) of presenting the loyal and dutiful Address of Congratulation on the Birth of the Prince of Wales to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen , at a Levee at St James's Palace on the 16th instant, which Here Majesty was most graciously pleased to receive:

And on the following day the High Constable (accompanied by Captain Pechell) presented the Address of Congratulation to His Royal Higness Prince Albert, who was graciously pleased to return the following verbal answer:- “ I beg you will announce to the Inhabitants of Brighton that I thank them sincerely for their loyal and dutifull Address, and I wish every prosperity to their town.”

The High Constable (accompanied by Captain Pechell) also on the same day presented the Address of Congratulation to Her Royal Higness the Duchess of Kent, who was graciously pleased to return the following answer :- “I am most sensible of the flattering terms of this Address; and I rejoice to learn that the emotions with which the Birth of the Prince of Wales animate my own heart, are so warmly responded to by the loyal inhabitants of Brighton.”

THOMAS FULLER High Constable

Brighton, 21st March 1842.

 

The following month a new High Constable was elected and Thomas Fuller was never to reach such heights again. By 1845, though still a Leet Court Juryman with Montpelier Road given as his address, the dreadful business of Bankruptcy re-emerged, though this time in a personal capacity, as he was declared an INSOLVENT DEBTOR and publiscised as such in the Brighton Gazette on 4th December 1845:

 

************

 

 

The Bubble Bursts

 

Our next port of call was to look in the London Gazette to find the details of this latest episode as nothing further is found in the local Brighton papers.

Quite how long Thomas Fuller remained in the Queen’s (Bench) Prison has not as yet been discovered, but the next Gazette references are for  September 1851.

 

His initial incarceration may have been quite short, after which being released within the “Rules of the prison” i.e with the immediate vicinity of the prison. He had, since 1846, been quite active, (trying to pay off his debts ?) and in the process had accumulated a  number of new addresses and occupational changes within the leather trade. 

By June 22 1852 the amount in the pound payable to his creditors is settled. It is a pitiful amount and rather tells just how far Morris Fuller’s father had fallen from his glory days in Brighton :

 

 

There were very clearly close family connections between Fuller’s, Morris’ and Hooper’s  that allied Non-conformity and the Leather trade. This is apparent with a number of 1st cousin marriages within those families. Whilst it isn’t evident that Hannah was willing and able to assist Thomas in his business life, there is some evidence that the Hooper connection  didn’t entirely shun Thomas. The following Gazette entry suggests that this family connection was perhaps finally broken with the dissolution of this partnership: 

 

 

If the above demonstrates James Hooper cutting his losses then does the entry from the following year show Thomas himself being cut loose? 

 

James Hooper tanner and leather merchant was a nephew of Thomas and Hannah (his brother Benjamin was their son-in-law married to Esther Hannah). He had married Elisabeth Berry Morris the daughter of Hannah’s brother Benjamin Morris and so they were also cousins. James seems to have had a varied career and moved about in his capacity as a merchant with one child born in Liverpool and another in Brazil. The family emigrated to the USA in around 1867 where he had the occupation there of a Fire Insurance Clerk. 

 

 

 **********

 

When Esther Hannah married James’ brother Benjamin in 1843, the notice appeared in the paper in an expected form: 

MARRIED.--On the 15th inst., at Nicholas', Brighton, by the Rev James Vaughan, Benjamin son of the late Mr Cleeve Hooper, of Bermondsey, to Esther Hannah, eldest surviving daughter of Mr Thomas Fuller, of Brighton

Was Thomas still within the bosom of his  family when Elizabeth Sarah Ann was married in 1851?

Does this simple notice located in the newspaper columns (insensitively placed alone above a bankruptcy case)  represent the family’s shame about the current events or does it indicate a deeper rift in the marriage of Hannah and Thomas Fuller?  

He was still styled as a Leather Merchant on Morris and Helen Fuller’s marriage certificate? It was however his brother, Thomas M.D. who signed as a witness to the event on December 29th. 1859.

Was Thomas in attendance, at the wedding or indeed at the weddings of any of his children? We’ll probably never know, but of those certificates that it has been possible to examine, he does not sign the registers as a proud parent.

**************

Although it is natural to speculate, it is never wise to make any assumptions about historical figures. It was nevertheless the seeking of evidence to support a hypothosis, formed when first looking at the Census' lack of information, that has uncovered the story so far.

The fact that Cornelius Wetherall Fuller, their youngest child, embarked upon a career in the leather trade does perhaps at least suggest  vindication of the “family business” to Thomas if not to Hannah. From this distance it does very much look as if Hannah’s interpretation of “family business” was rather different and she determinedly kept at least a part of the family afloat during what must have been very difficult times. This also begs the question whether it was her diligent example that allowed  her two other sons to prosper in professions not quite so susceptible to economic catastrophe, or perhaps she was just simply attempting to protect them from a profligate father?

One can almost hear the “I told you so” when we find Cornelius also in the bankrupts’ courts from 1862 to 1878 in places ranging from Bermondsey to Brixton, Brighton to Northampton  and Kidderminster.

The more one sees of the family background, the more one thinks it should be entirely unsurprising that Morris Fuller turned out to live a life so fraught with contention.

 

There is an interesting postcript to this story found in a report of the death of Morris Fuller in the Sussex Agricultural Express of August 3rd. 1901 and one wonders if this was a family press release, and  an attempt to rehabilitate Morris's father for future Fuller generations:

 

 

 

 

Click here for Part 3


Page last updated: 28th February 2021 2:08 PM