I’ve written before about the links between my Gibson ancestors and the Bonner family. My recent discovery of the marriage between John Godfrey Schwartz and Mary Ann Bonner has renewed my interest in the Bonners, and in the next couple of posts I wanted to review what we know about them. I’m grateful to my fellow researchers Jill Crawford, Elizabeth Cherry and Kathryn Harris – all Bonner descendants – for sharing their knowledge of the family’s history with me. In this post, I’ll set down what I know about the first two generations of ‘our’ Bonners, and in another post I’ll write about the generation that followed them.

The connection between the Gibson and Bonner families was initiated on 22 January 1761 (the second year of the reign of George III), when Frances Gibson, daughter of Lieutenant John Gibson and Mary Greene, and younger sister of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth, nee Gibson, married Michael Bonner. The wedding took place in Frances’ home parish of St Botolph, Aldgate.

Michael Bonner was described in the parish register as being ‘of the parish of St George in the county of Middlesex’ – in other words, St George in the East – but there’s evidence that he was a native of Aldgate.  On 14 September 1733, a Michael Bonner was christened at St Botolph’s; he was the son of John and Frances Bonner of Maudlins Rents, East Smithfield.  If this is the right person, then he would have been about 28 years old when he married Frances: she would have been 26.

East Smithfield, from Rocque's map of 1746

John Bonner had been born in about 1693 in the parish of St Mary, Whitechapel. On 19 September 1725 he married Francis Robertson of St Botolph, Aldgate, at Holy Trinity, Minories. Michael was the fourth of their five children. In November 1726, when their daughter Mary was christened at St Botolph’s, the Bonners were living in Nightingale Lane, East Smithfield. They were at the same address three years later when their son John was born: however, they chose to have him baptised at the church of St John Wapping. John junior’s christening record gives us the first indication of his father’s occupation: like his son Michael after him, John Bonner senior was a mariner. I have a note in my files (probably accessed via the International Genealogical Index) that a third child, Elizabeth, was baptised in March 1730 at St Mary, Whitechapel, but I haven’t been able to find a record to support this.

As previously mentioned, Michael Bonner was born at Maudlins Rents (off Nightingale Lane) in East Smithfield in 1733. By the time Sarah Bonner – Michael’s younger sister, and his parents’ youngest child – was christened in April 1736, at the church of St George in the East, the family had relocated to Virginia Street in that parish (this street was to the south of Ratcliff Highway: see map below).

I don’t have any information about what became of Michael Bonner’s siblings. As mentioned above, Michael married Frances Gibson in January 1761. When their first child, John William, was christened at St Botolph’s a year later, they were living in Darby Street, off Rosemary Lane, in Aldgate (the same street – perhaps the same house? – where Frances’ sister Elizabeth and her first husband John Collins could be found three years earlier). However, when a second son, Michael, was baptised in October 1768, the family’s address was Bird Street, in the parish of St George in the East, where the ceremony took place. It’s the record of this baptism that first suggests that Michael Bonner followed his father John’s occupation as a mariner: the parish register styles him Captain Michael Bonner.

One month later, at the same church, Michael’s mother, Frances Bonner, nee Robertson, was buried. She was 68 years old and still living in Virginia Street when she died. Two years later her husband John was also buried at St George’s. He was 77 years old and was described as a mariner from the parish of St John, Wapping, which is consistent with the Virginia Street address.

Virginia Street, from Rocque's map of 1746

As I mentioned in an earlier post, John William Bonner was apprenticed to a merchant in Lime Street, London in 1776, when he was about 13 years old. (As I also noted recently, it may be more than coincidental that John Godfrey Schwarz, who I believe to have been John William’s first cousin, was also apprenticed to a London merchant in the same year). By the time John William married Sarah Ford in December 1781, he was living in her home parish of Whitechapel. Among the witnesses to the marriage was John’s uncle, East India Company broker Bowes John Gibson, younger brother of his mother Frances.

John and Sarah Bonner appear to have moved south of the river soon after their marriage. The first of their three children, John Harker Bonner, was born in Bermondsey Buildings in 1782 and christened at the church of St Mary Magdalen (where John’s aunt, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth, had contracted her second marriage, to Joseph Holdsworth, nine years earlier). John William is described in the parish register as a gentleman. A second son, George, was born at the same address and baptised at the same church two years later. However, by the time their third child and only daughter was born in 1793, the Bonners had moved back across the river to Mile End Old Town. Marianne or Mary Ann was christened at St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 6 October 1793.

It’s possible that the whole Bonner family had moved to Bermondsey, either at the same time as or before John William. Certainly, Michael Bonner junior, John William’s younger brother, was described as being ‘of this parish’ when he married Eleanor Trantum Sayle at the church of St Mary Magdalen on 4 August 1792. According to the IGI, Eleanor was born in 1766 in Southwark, the daughter of James Sayle, but I’ve been unable to find any records to back this up. Michael would have been 24 and Eleanor 26 when they married.

Paradise Street, Rotherhithe, from Horwood's 1792 map

The first children born to Michael and Eleanor were twins, Charles and Frances, born on 3 July 1794 and baptised on 20 July at St Mary, Rotherhithe. I have a note, possibly from the IGI, that the Bonners’ next child, William George, was born in Paradise Street, Rotherhithe, on 2 August 1795 and christened at St Mary’s on 28 August. However, I haven’t been able to track down the record for this. Another son, Michael, was baptised at the same church on 8 June 1800, while his brother Henry was christened there on 6 December in the following year. Daughter Eleanor was baptised at the same church on 16 June 1803. Another daughter, Mary Ann, was christened there in July 1804. Curiously, there is an identical entry in the parish register three years later, on 19 October 1807, which notes that Mary was born and baptised on the same day: I think it reads 12 July 1804, but the last part of the date is obscured.

St Mary, Rotherhithe

Michael Bonner senior and his wife Frances, the parents of John William and Michael, both died in early 1802. At the time of their deaths they were living at Charlotte Row in the parish of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, but both elected to be buried at the church of St George in the East, probably because Michael’s parents were buried there (see above). Frances died first and was buried on 8 January 1802. She was 66 years old. Her husband Captain Michael Bonner followed shortly afterwards, being buried on 26 February; he was 71 years old.

In his will Michael Bonner senior describes himself as a ‘gentleman’ and leaves his two sons to share his property and effects between them. The will is brief and possibly written in a hurry: it was signed and sealed on 12 February, two weeks before Michael’s burial, suggesting that he (and perhaps Frances) died following a sudden illness.

Michael Bonner junior died in 1811, nine years after his parents, at Paradise Street in Rotherhithe, and was buried on 28 December. He was 42 years old. His burial record at St Mary’s and his will are the only documents we have that mention his occupation: like his father and grandfather before him, Michael Bonner was a mariner. Written in January 1810, Michael’s will leaves everything to his ‘dearly beloved wife Eleanor Bonner to and for her own whole and sole proper use and benefit hoping that she will take proper care of all our dear children’.

Michael’s elder brother John William Bonner would live for another six years, dying in Mile End Old Town in 1817. Under ‘disorder’ in the parish register is the single word ‘paralitic’ (sic). John was buried at St Dunstan’s church on 26 September, in the family tomb erected by his great grandfather (and my 7 x great grandfather) Joseph Greene, Citizen and goldsmith. The inscription, which appears below that of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth, nee Gibson, reads ‘Mr John Wm Bonner, nephew of the above, late of His Majesty’s Ordnance Office Tower who departed this life September 21st 1817 aged 55 years’.  The Office of the Ordnance, founded by Henry VIII, was charged with storing and supplying equipment to the military. It’s possible that John William Bonner’s role there was an honorary one, and is perhaps a reflection of his social status.


I’ve amended Michael Bonner senior’s birthplace to Maudlins Rents, rather than Hawkins Rents, as I had it originally. I’m grateful to my fellow researcher Ron Roe for pointing out my mis-reading of the parish register.