I’ve found out some more information about the Bonner family, partly as a result of my own research and partly thanks to communications from two Bonner descendants. My interest in the Bonners stems from the fact that John William Bonner (1762 – 1817) is buried in the same tomb in Stepney churchyard as my 5 x great grandmother, Elizabeth Holdsworth. Elizabeth (1733 – 1809) was the daughter of Lieutenant John Gibson and Mary Greene, the latter being the daughter of goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737) who erected the family tomb. Elizabeth’s sister Frances Gibson (born 1735) married mariner Michael Bonner in 1761 and their son John William was born in the following year. So John William was the nephew of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth nee Gibson.

John William Bonner married Sarah Ford at the church of St Mary, Whitechapel on 22 December 1781. I’ve now managed to find documentary evidence of three children born to John and Sarah. John Harker Bonner was born on 26 September 1782 at Bermondsey Buildings and christened on 20 October at St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey. The parish register describes his father as a ‘Gent.’ George Bonner was born on 19 January 1784 at the same address and christened at the same church on 15 February: his father is accorded the same status in this record, too. By the time that Marianne Bonner was born, in September 1793, the family had moved across the river to Mile End Old Town, and she was christened at St Dunstan, Stepney, on 6 October: her parents’ names, and the description of her father as a gentleman, confirm that this is the same family.

Section of Fairburn’s 1801 map, showing location of Bermondsey Buildings (off New Road)

John William Bonner acted as the executor for the will of his father, Michael, who died in 1802. John himself died on 21 September 1817 in Mile End Old Town and was buried at St Dunstan’s on 26 September. The inscription on the tomb describes him as ‘late of His Majesty’s Ordinance Office, Tower’, but I’ve been unable to discover anything further about his role there. Presumably, however, his rank as ‘gentleman’ meant that he also had an independent source of income.

Until now, I’ve known nothing about John William’s younger brother, Michael Bonner junior. My search was probably hindered by the fact that I mis-read his name in Michael senior’s will as ‘Richard’. However, in the last few days I’ve received comments on this blog from two of Michael’s descendants – Kathryn Harris in Australia and Elizabeth Cherry in Sussex –who I hope will correct me if I’ve got any of the following information wrong.

Michael Bonner was born on 15 September 1786 at Bird Street in the parish of St George in the East, Stepney, and christened at the parish church on 30 October. The parish register accords his father Michael senior, who we know to have been a mariner, the rank of ‘captain’ (like Michael junior’s great-great-grandfather – and my 8 x great grandfather – William Greene). Michael junior got married on 4 August 1792 at the church of St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, to Eleanor Tranton Sayle (the spelling and transcription of Eleanor’s middle name varies between records: in the marriage register the clerk spells it ‘Tranton’, while Eleanor’s own signature looks more like ‘Trantman’).

The Thames at London in the 18th century

I’ve found records for a number of children born to Michael and Eleanor, but I’m not sure my list is exhaustive or entirely accurate. On 20 July 1794 they had twins, Charles and Frances, christened at St Mary, Rotherhithe. In 1796, it seems they had a son William George, also in Rotherhithe, but I’ve yet to find a record confirming this.  In June 1800 a son Michael was christened in Rotherhithe, and in December of the following year they had another son, Henry. A daughter Eleanor was born in 1803 and another daughter, Mary Ann, a year later. However, the latter cannot have survived, since a daughter of the same name was born and baptised in 1807. The last child for whom I’ve found a record is Susan, born in 1808 and like her siblings before her, christened at St Mary Rotherhithe.

Finding out about Michael Bonner junior has solved the mystery of the ‘other’ Bonner will that I came across when looking for records of his father. The younger Michael died at Paradise Street, Rotherhithe in 1811 and was buried on 28 December at St Mary’s church. He was 42 years old and the burial record confirms that, like his father, he was a mariner. His will, signed and sealed on 1 January 1810 and proved on 21 January 1812, confirms this address and occupation. Michael leaves everything ‘to my dearly beloved wife Eleanor to and for her own whole and proper use and benefit hoping that she will take proper care of all our own children’.  It should be noted that Michael’s oldest children would only have been in their early twenties when he died, while the youngest would have been just three or four years old.

St Mary’s church, Rotherhithe

Thirty years after Michael Bonner’s death, at the time of the 1841 census, his widow Eleanor was living in Paradise Place, Rotherhithe, with their daughters Frances and Susan. Their ages are given as 65, 40 and 30 respectively, but in fact Frances would have been 47 and Susan 33. All three women are described as ‘independent’. Interestingly their nearest neighbour, Nathan Knight, 41, is a Trinity pilot: the occupation almost certainly of my (and the Bonner daughters’) ancestor Captain William Greene. Perhaps Michael Bonner, too, was a member of Trinity House?

Charity school, Rotherhithe

Eleanor Bonner died three years later at Paradise Place and was buried at St Mary’s Rotherhithe. Her burial record confirms that she was 77 years old, which means that she was born in about 1768, and that the 1841 census record was wildly inaccurate. The 1851 census finds her daughters Frances and Susan living at 30 Princes Street, Rotherhithe, and working (presumably together) as schoolmistresses: that familiar occupation of unmarried Victorian gentlewomen.