I’ve been exploring the lives of the children of Bowes John Gibson (1744 – 1817), the East India Company broker who was the younger brother of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson (1733 – 1809). In recent posts I’ve written about the surviving children from Bowes John’s second marriage to Mary Catherine Bretman. In this post, I’m returning to the children who survived from his first marriage to Elizabeth Hendly.
In an earlier post, I noted that only three children appear to have survived from Bowes John’s first marriage. These were his daughter Esther, who married mariner and shipbuilder Thomas Lay, with whom she had two sons, but who disappears from the records after 1797 – and his two sons, George Milsom Gibson and John Thomas Gibson. I’ve written about the latter two before, but I now want to provide a fuller account of their lives, which seem to have followed similar paths.
Birth and childhood
George Milsom Gibson was born at Long Walk, Bermondsey, on 18th December 1781 and baptised on 7th January in the following year at the parish church of St Mary Magdalene. As I’ve noted before, he appears to have been named after Captain George Milsom, who died in 1834, and who is described in some sources as serving in the 9th Regiment of the Madras Native Infantry, and in others as being in the service of the East India Company: the two were seemingly not incompatible. Since Bowes John Gibson was in the habit of naming sons after people he knew personally, it seems likely that the two men were friends and associates. Certainly, it seems no coincidence that George Milsom Gibson would end up serving in the Madras Native Infantry like his namesake – who may well have been his godfather. By the time his younger brother John Thomas was born three years later, the Gibson family had moved across the Thames to a house in Mile End Old Town. John was christened on 18th August 1785 at St Dunstan’s, Stepney.
George and John were the seventh and eighth children born to their mother Elizabeth, though it’s unclear how many of their older siblings had survived infancy. Esther, the eldest Gibson child, was already fourteen when George was born. The only other older sibling whose survival we can be sure of was another brother, Grey Dockley Gibson, who was eight years older than George. A younger sister, Matilda Ann, and a younger brother, Carleton, would follow George and John, but neither would survive early childhood.
In 1793, when George was ten and John was eight, their mother Elizabeth died. In the following year their older brother Grey Dockley died at the age of twenty. It was another few years before their father Bowes John married for a second time, though it’s possible that his relationship with Mary Catherine Bretman preceded their formal marriage in 1799. This second marriage would produce eight more (half) siblings for George and John.
The two boys would have spent most of their childhood in then-fashionable Mile End Old Town, though we know that they were sent to school in Lambeth in south London, possibly as weekly boarders and perhaps (given their motherless state) from an early age. Our main source for this information is the memoir written by John Thomas Gibson’s schoolfriend and future brother-in-law, the composer, singer and actor Charles Edward Horn. Horn writes that ‘the Gibsons and the Laings were our constant visitors as boys from school on Sundays, and this was continued till their departure from school for good and to become cadets for the Indian Service’. Elsewhere he notes that one of the Laing brothers, Henry Laing ‘became the instructor and master of my sister’s children upon her first visit to England after being with her husband in India 10 years, and her second son, Dockley Gibson, being educated for a clergyman, married the daughter of John Laing. Thus we all schoolfellows became afterward related by the marriages of my sister’s and the Laings’ children’.
We know that John Thomas Gibson became an officer cadet in the Indian Army in 1800, when he was fifteen years old and, given his superior age, I imagine that George might have joined the service before this (British Library, Oriental and India Office, Cadet Papers, L/MIL/9/111 f 625).
On 20th February 1811, when he was twenty-three years old, John Thomas Gibson married Henrietta Eliza Horn, his old school friend’s sister, at the church of St George the Martyr, Queen Square. John’s father Bowes John Gibson was one of the witnesses, and the other was Henrietta’s father, Charles Frederick Horn – the German-born musician and composer who became a music teacher in the Royal Household.
Charles Edward Horn writes in his memoir of how he ‘left my apartments in Rathbone Place and again joined my father at 25 Queen Square, in consequence of my sister’s marriage with my old schoolfellow J[ohn Thomas] Gibson, then a lieutenant only in the Indian Army, and then leaving with Major Gibson for Madras for they had residence at my father’s house.’
As for George Milsom Gibson, he was married two years after his younger brother. On 22nd September 1813 he married Eliza Harriet Wilson at Fort St George, Madras. I’m grateful to Barbara Haines in Kentucky, who is researching the life of the original George Milsom, for this information. I recently discovered that Eliza Wilson was almost certainly the (illegitimate?) daughter of Welsh-born merchant Thomas Parry.
According to one source:
Parry came to Madras in 1788 and by 1794 he was married to Mary Pearce, widow of a civil servant of the city. Parry’s marriage was not a success, for Mrs. Parry disliked Madras. In 1806 she took her two children and left for England where she lived for the remainder of a rather long life. Parry consoled himself with the local delights. He almost certainly fathered a Miss Eliza Harriett Wilson at whose marriage to Major George Gibson he and his business partner Dare officiated as witnesses. Her son was named George Parry Gibson.
Another source relates that in 1823 ‘Parry and 10 year old George Parry Gibson (his son?) went to South Arcot to visit his indigo factory in Porto Novo and was smitten by Cholera and died soon after.’ George Parry Gibson was, of course, Thomas Parry’s grandson, not his son. By this time, the boy’s father was dead, since George Milsom Gibson passed away less than a year after his marriage to Eliza Wilson. The inscription on his tomb in the Old Cemetery at Visakhapatnam, India, reads as follows:
Sacred to the memory of Major George Milsom Gibson Commandant 1st batt[alion]. 2nd Reg. N[ative] I[nfantry] who departed this life 5 May 1814 Aged 33 years.
It’s unclear whether George died of natural causes or on active service. Nor do we know what became of his widow or his son.
The children of John Thomas Gibson
Information about the military career of John Thomas Gibson is harder to come by, though we know that most of it was spent in Madras, in the service of the East India Company, and that he rose to the rank of Major General. Certainly, all of John and Henrietta Gibson’s nine children appear to have been born in India. They were: Louise Grace (born 1811); Mary Emma (1815); John James (1816); Charles Dockley (1818); Edmund (1819); Thomas Wheatley (1823); Henrietta Elizabeth (1824); Matilda (1827); and Edward Samuel (1829). Of these, we know that Mary Emma and Emma both died at the age of two and Matilda at the age of one. I can find no further records for Edmund or Edward Samuel, nor are they mentioned in his father’s will, so I assume that they did not survive either.
John Thomas and Henrietta Gibson’s eldest daughter Louise Grace married George Briggs, a captain in the Madras Artillery, probably sometime in the 1830s.
John and Henrietta’s eldest son John James Gibson served as a captain in the 20th Regiment of the Native Infantry. He was married with children, though I can find no record of his wife or offspring. He predeceased his father, date unknown.
Charles Dockley Gibson graduated from St John’s College, Cambridge in 1841. The census taken that year finds him living in Fulham High Street and working as a teacher. However, by the time of his marriage, on 3rd June 1843, at the church of St John, Hampstead, Charles had taken holy orders and was described in the parish register as a clergyman, living at Corton in Suffolk. His father John Thomas was described as a general in the army. Charles’ bride was Louisa Laing, daughter of John Laing, a gentleman of Hampstead. As we have already noted, John was also an old school friend of Charles’ father.
On 7th December 1847 Thomas Wheatley Gibson married Italian-born Isabella Schneider at Chigwell, Essex. From later census records, we can gather that Thomas followed in his father’s footsteps and served as a captain in the Indian army.
Henrietta Elizabeth Gibson married another Indian army officer, Henry Temple Hillyard, probably some time in the 1840s, possibly in India. Henry would rise to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the 14th Madras Native Infantry.
John Thomas Gibson died in 1852 at Kolergherry in the Neilgherry or Nilgiri Hills, India, leaving his house there to his daughter Louise and her husband Captain George Briggs, who was also appointed as one of the executors of his will. From John’s failure to mention his wife Henrietta in his will, we can assume that he predeceased her. Interestingly, we discover that John Thomas Gibson’s life insurance was with ‘Messrs. Parry and Company’.