As a result of my interest in the names of witnesses at an 18th century wedding, and thanks to the generous help of a genealogical contact via Twitter, I’ve discovered a whole new and fascinating branch to my family tree.

Last week, I wrote about the 1781 marriage of John William Bonner, nephew of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth nee Gibson, to Sarah Ford. I was intrigued by the name of one of the witnesses, who I thought might be John William’s grandfather – and my 6 x great grandfather – Lieutenant John Gibson.  I linked to this post on Twitter and asked whether anyone could help with deciphering the name. I was pleased to be contacted by Kirsty Wilkinson, who tweets as GenealogyGirl, and who believed the name of the witness to be ‘Bowes Jno (John) Gibson’. Kirsty noted that the signature on the marriage record was very similar to that given by Bowes John Gibson at the time of his marriage to Mary Catherine Bretman at Bethnal Green in 1799.

These clues set me off on a search of my own for more information about Bowes John Gibson, and led me to a startling conclusion. This previously undiscovered member of the Gibson family turned out to be the son of my 6 x great grandparents, Lieutenant John Gibson and Mary Green, and the younger brother of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson.

Until last week, I believed that John and Mary had five children, all of them girls, the last being Ann, born in 1737. However, it turns out that they had at least one more child, a son, Bowes John, who was christened on 4 November 1744. Confusingly, the Ancestry record gives the name of the parish as St Botolph Aldersgate, whereas the source citation beneath it is labelled ‘Guildhall, St Botolph Aldgate, Register of baptisms, 1718 – 1752′ (my emphases). The latter is more likely to be correct, since a quick survey of the addresses given in the register shows that most of the families mentioned lived in the Aldgate area. The Gibsons’ address is the same as for their other children: Tower Hill.

St Botolph, Aldgate

The confusion between the two St Botolphs led me to review the baptismal records for John and Mary’s other children, and I found the same error there: the source said Aldgate, while the Ancestry summary record said Aldersgate. I’ve contacted Ancestry to point out the mistake. I’d been wondering for some time why the Gibsons, living in Aldgate, would have had their children baptised in a church to the west of the city.

Bowes John Gibson’s unusual first name makes it comparatively easy to track him through the available records. By the time he was in his early twenties, Bowes John Gibson was living in the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, which is where he married Elizabeth Hendley on 13 October 1766.  Elizabeth was from the parish of St Mary, Lambeth. Their daughter Esther was christened at St Dunstan’s on 8 August 1767. The record gives the family’s address as Mile End Old Town and Bowes John Gibson’s status as ‘Gent.’

When their first son, George Milson Gibson, was baptised on 7 January 1782, Bowes John and Elizabeth were living in Long Walk, Bermondsey: the child was christened at the church of St Mary Magdalen. Their second son John Thomas was baptized at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney, on 13 September 1785. The family were now back in Mile End.

Elizabeth Gibson nee Hendly must have died some time before 1799, when Bowes John remarried. It’s likely that she’s the Elizabeth Gibson of Mile End Old Town who was buried at St Dunstan’s on 12 January 1793.

Mile End Old Gate (Whitechaptel Turnpike), 1798

On 6 April 1799 Bowes John Gibson married Mary Catherine Bretman at St Matthew, Bethnal Green, her home parish. I haven’t been able to find any other records for Mary, but I believe her surname to be German in origin. A son, James Charles, was christened at St Dunstan’s on 20 October 1800. The Gibson home was still in Mile End Old Town and Bowes John was again described as a ‘Gent.’ A second son, Bowes Charles, was baptized in 1817, though it looks as though he might have been born in 1811.

Bowes John Gibson was a witness at the marriage of his son, John Thomas, to Henrietta Elizabeth Horn, daughter of Charles Frederick and Diana Horn, at the church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square, Bloomsbury, on 20 Feb 1811 (my paternal great great grandparents, William Robb and Fanny Seager, would be married at the same church a quarter of a century later).

Bowes John Gibson died in 1817, at the age of 73, and was buried at St Dunstan’s on 28 August. I’ve found his will at the National Archives and the transcription reads as follows:

In the name of God Amen. I Bowes John Gibson of Mile End Old Town in the parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex Gent being of disposing mind memory and understanding God be praised for it do hereby make this my last will and testament first I recommend my soul to the Almighty God who gave it and my body to be buried in the family vault at Stepney above mentioned and that not more than ten pounds be laid out in the funeral is my wish and also xxx constitute and appoint my dear wife Mary Catherine Gibson my wholesale legatee and executrix of all my worldly estate both real (?) and personal Whether (?) in the funds of mortgage debts furniture or otherwise and at her liberty to appoint any person she may think fit to appoint as executor with her and as the children by my former wife Elizabeth were all handsomely provided for by me I leave them each for mourning as follows that is to say to Mrs Esther Lay my eldest daughter by a former marriage ten pounds my eldest son Geo. Milsom Gibson now living by the said marriage the life sum of ten pounds and also ten pounds to John Thomas Gibson son of my wife Elizabeth Gibson but in case of the death of one two or all of them dying before they receive (?) such ten pounds xxx I leave the said bequest of ten pounds of either or all of them to my said Mary Catherine Gibson in witness whereof I have this twentieth day of November one thousand eight hundred and four set my name Bowes Jno Gibson witness to the above xxx two or all being first witnessed Charles Wright Thomas Wright

Proved at London 7 July 1818 before the worshipful Samuel Pearce parson (?) doctor of laws and surrogate by the oath of Mary Catherine Gibson widow xxx the sole executrix to whom xxx was granted being sworn to xxx

Bowes John (or John Bowes) Gibson was listed in Holden’s London Directory for 1790 as an auctioneer, living in Mile End, and in the 5th edition of Bailey’s London Directory, or Merchants’ and Trader’s Useful Companion, for the same year, as ‘auctioneer, financial/broking services, to the East India Company’.  At least two of his sons also served the same company, in a military capacity, and I’ll report what I’ve found out about them in future posts.

East India House, headquarters of the East India Company

Bowes John Gibson’s presence at the wedding of John William Bonner in 1781 can now be explained: he was John William’s uncle, brother of the latter’s mother Frances. And since we know that John William Bonner was apprenticed to a London merchant, possibly a stockbroker, there might also have been a business connection between the two men: indeed, Bowes John might have helped his nephew to make a start in his career.

Finding out about Bowes John Gibson also throws some light, albeit in a negative sense, on his parents, my 6 x great grandparents. We know now that Lieutenant John Gibson could not have died in the early 1740s, as some records suggest: the date of his death must have been 1744 or later.

Bowes John Gibson’s profession, and his status as a ‘gentleman’, makes it a little easier to understand how his sister Elizabeth (my 5 x great grandmother) might have married another ‘gentleman’, John Collins of Epping, in 1753, and then Essex tenant farmer Joseph Holdsworth ten years later. Clearly, the Gibsons were not impoverished (after all, my 7 x great grandfather, goldsmith Joseph Greene, had bequeathed a legacy of two thousand pounds to his daughter Mary on her marriage to Lieutenant Gibson).

What is more difficult to comprehend is how one branch of this comfortable London family became, in two generations, a family of shoemakers and tallow chandlers. Clearly, some loss of status and income occurred among the Holdsworths some time in the latter decades of the 18th century.

This disparity in status between the generations has often made me doubt whether the ‘gentlemanly’ Gibsons are, in fact, my ancestors. However, we know that Elizabeth Holdsworth was buried in the same family tomb as John William Bonner and Joseph Greene in Stepney churchyard, and that this is the same Elizabeth Holdsworth whose will explicitly mentions her son William, my 7 x great grandfather and a Whitechapel shoemaker. So the Gibsons are indeed my ancestors, even if their lives seem a world away from those of their working-class Holdsworth and Roe descendants, my mother’s immediate ancestors, in the Victorian East End.